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Although nitrates are a naturally-occurring compound that are harmless in small concentrations, the injection of mass-produced, commercially manufactured nitrates into crop fertilizers has caused significant environmental damage as well as negative health impacts. For example, the runoff and leakage of nitrate-dense soil can contaminate surface and groundwater, which many people drink. Infants and pregnant people exposed to nitrate-contaminated water can develop methemoglobinemia (commonly known as blue baby syndrome), a potentially fatal condition in which nitrates interfere with a baby’s red blood cells leading to less oxygen circulation. Blue baby syndrome commonly occurs in rural areas where private wells are used for drinking water. It is especially prevalent in the Midwest and West where mass agricultural production is common. Increases in rates of exposure to nitrates are also connected to race and class. Researchers have found increases of 223% in nitrate concentrations in areas that predominantly consist of low-income individuals and people of color. Those living in predominantly Latinx areas have on average a 0.44mg increase in nitrate levels, while homeownership is associated with a 0.16mg decrease in nitrate contamination. These numbers matter because nitrate leaching significantly impacts fetal health and development. Furthermore, the people who are most likely to experience increased exposure to nitrates are the very people—people of color, poor people, and people in rural areas—who often have more difficulty accessing reproductive health care.

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