Press Release: Study suggests nitrate contamination of water, often a result of intensive agricultural production, has negative impacts on health of surrounding communities



Media Contact:
Maria Payan
Socially Responsible Agriculture Project or (717) 826-7286

Dr. Sacoby Wilson
University of Maryland School of Public Health

Aug. 19, 2020

Study suggests nitrate contamination of water, often a result of intensive agricultural production, has negative impacts on health of surrounding communities

SUSSEX COUNTY, DE—A recent study, conducted by Dr. Sacoby Wilson and a team of researchers from the University of Maryland School of Public Health, explored the relationship between concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), high nitrates, and special education enrollment and proficiency in Delaware. The research used Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to look into connections between drinking water well proximity to agricultural operations, including CAFOs, local nitrate concentrations in groundwater, and increased special education program enrollment and reduced math and English proficiency throughout Delaware.

Additionally, this research investigated CAFOs and their associated pollutants as an environmental justice concern in the state. Environmental justice, according to Dr. Wilson, refers to marginalized communities, such as tribal populations and people of color, that are exposed to environmental health risks at higher levels than other people. Disabilities in Delaware were found to be disproportionately present among populations below the poverty line and in communities of color. Low-wealth communities were found to host more CAFOs than their wealthier counterparts. These results are consistent with prior research performed in Delaware that found the poultry industry has the potential to disproportionately burden environmental justice communities within the state (Baskin-Graves et al., 2019).

The study, according to the report, was limited by redacted education data and the classification of disability data, which combines both physical and mental disabilities, as well as potential incorrect and incomplete data reporting by CAFO owners, nitrate estimates and lack of chemical data.

The findings suggest that as a national agricultural leader, Delaware must contend with its excessive agricultural byproducts and high contamination rates. The study recommends that further investigation be conducted regarding the state’s agricultural production and its connection to childhood disabilities and poor performance in schools. It is recommended that Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and other state bodies make data collection and reporting a priority. Drinking water wells should be tested for nitrates and other contaminants, and this information should be publicly available.

As a leading organization that informs and educates communities about the negative impacts of concentrated animal feeding operations on local communities, the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP) team understands that the agricultural industry disproportionately affects low-wealth communities and people of color. Efforts must be made to protect vulnerable populations, including further regulation of nearby harmful industrial agriculture practices. “In Delaware, it is a stain that a zip code can determine if your child can develop to their full potential, to be educated and live a healthy life,” said Maria Payan, regional representative for SRAP. “It is a bigger stain that information is not available to the public or researchers.”

Socially Responsible Agriculture Project: SRAP is a national organization that informs and educates the general public about the negative effects of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and works directly with communities across the country to protect their public health, environmental quality, natural resources, and local economies from the damaging impacts of factory farms. For more information, visit

University of Maryland School of Public Health: UMD School of Public Health works to promote and protect the health and well-being of the diverse communities throughout Maryland, the nation, and the world through leadership and collaboration in interdisciplinary education, research, practice, and public policy. For more information, visit

Sussex Health & Environmental Network (SHEN): SHEN is a voice for positive solutions and inclusiveness in representation in environmental and public health issues. The vision of SHEN, a coalition of stakeholders in Sussex County, Delaware, is to ensure a clean and healthy environment for future generations. The mission of SHEN is to improve the health of Sussex County, Delaware’s citizens and their natural environment. For more information, visit

To read the study, visit Proximity to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), Nitrates, and the Association with Local School Proficiency and Special Education Enrollment in Delaware. To view the presentation, visit Delaware – Agriculture and Disabilities Presentation.pdf.