In Denmark, drinking water quality data covering the entire country for over 35 years are registered in a publicly-accessible database. These data were analysed to determine the fraction of population exposed to elevated nitrate concentrations. Data from 2,852 water supply areas from the 98 Danish municipalities were collected in one dataset. Public water supplies are extensively registered; private wells supplying only few households are neither monitored nor registered sufficiently. The study showed that 5.1% of the Danish population was exposed to nitrate concentrations 25 mg L−1 in 2012. Private well users were far more prone to exposure to elevated nitrate concentrations than consumers connected to public supplies. While the fraction exposed to elevated nitrate concentrations amongst public supply users has been decreasing since the 1970s, it has been increasing amongst private well users, leading to the hypothesis that the decrease in nitrate concentrations in drinking water is mainly due to structural changes and not improvement of the groundwater quality. A combination of this new drinking water quality map with extensive Danish health registers would permit an epidemiological study on health effects of nitrate, as long as the lack of data on private well users is addressed.
Environmental Research Letters, 2014, Vol 9, Issue 9