Monoculture Farming Part 2: Pollution and Health Impacts (2)

Hey guys, I’m back with the 2nd portion to the post. This post will look at the wider health implication of the pollution caused by monoculture farming!

Groundwater contamination and Nitrate pollution

In one of my previous post, I mentioned that the need to apply nitrogen fertilisers, insecticide and fungicide rigorously to minimise Tropical Race 4 (TR 4) has caused the contamination of groundwater and aquifers. Since most chemical applications to the monoculture crops are either nitrogen or phosphorous based, the dissolution of nitrogen (when in contact water from precipitation, irrigation, surface runoffs, infiltration and existing water bodies) will become a nitrate compound. Nitrate then contaminates the groundwater and should groundwater be a source of drinking water, it can be a potential health risk.

Nitrate contamination: Blue Baby Syndrome and Impacts on Adults

A big thank you to Grace for researching on this portion when we were preparing for the briefing note assignment!

Infants who are formula-fed are vulnerable if the contaminated water is used to prepare the formula (Canterbury Breastfeeding Advocacy Service, 2014). Affected infants have an abnormally high amount of methaemoglobin in their blood, hence the condition’s scientific name, methaemoglobinaemia. Unlike regular haemoglobin, methaemoglobin cannot transport oxygen in the bloodstream. The result can be severe oxygen depletion in tissues and thus bluish tinge to the skin (Fewtrell, 2004). Infants under the age of 6 months have yet to have mature haemoglobin that can revert back to its original state if it ever becomes binded to the nitrite to become methemoglobin (Community and Public Health, 2013). Severe methemoglobinemia can result in brain damage and death because there is insufficient oxygen transported to the brain (brain death) and asphyxiation.

You can see the blue-ish tinge in the infant’s feet. Blue Baby Syndrome is not just a problem in the developing countries; developed countries where mothers prefer formula milk feeding over breast feeding may also increase the infant’s exposure to nitrate contaminated waters. Big TNC Nestle has been involved with several controversies for introducing the syndrome into Africa, by making formula powder extremely affordable there, and for marketing formula milk as ‘healthier’ than breast milk.

Pregnant women, adults with reduced stomach acidity, and people deficient in the enzyme that changes methemoglobin back to normal hemoglobin are all susceptible to nitrite-induced methemoglobinemia. The most obvious symptom of methemoglobinemia is a bluish color of the skin, particularly around the eyes and mouth. Other symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness or difficulty in breathing.

Nitrate contamination of drinking water may increase cancer risk, because nitrate is endogenously reduced to nitrite and subsequent nitrosation reactions give rise to N-nitroso compounds; these compounds are highly carcinogenic.

And Yeahhhhhh. This is the last post on Monoculture Farming. I will move on the theme of Animal Farming soon. So stay tune 😀

1. Canterbury Breastfeeding Advocacy Service. (2014). Canterbury Breastfeeding Advocacy Service. [online] Available at: http://whanauoraservices.co.nz/services/breastfeeding-advocacy [Accessed 6 Mar. 2015].

2. Community and Public Health. (2013). Nitrate in Drinking Water: Frequently Asked Questions. [online] Available at: http://www.cph.co.nz/Files/DrinkWaterFAQNitrates.pdf [Accessed 6 Mar. 2015].

3. Fewtrell,, L. (2004). Drinking-water nitrate, methemoglobinemia, and global burden of disease: A discussion. Environmental Health Perspectives, 112(14), 1371-1374.

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