Yanqi Xu is a reporter at the Flatwater Free Press, the first nonprofit statewide newsroom in Nebraska, where she covers inequality and social justice with data. Previously, she covered courts and law for NC Policy Watch and reported on public policy at PolitiFact in Washington D.C. At the Investigative Reporting Workshop, she was part of a team that developed the Public Accountability Project, a newsroom search tool that hosts more than 1 billion public records. Originally from China, she is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia. She was a Center for Health Journalism 2022 National Fellow. For her fellowship project, Xu explored the impact of agriculture and its byproduct, nitrate pollution, on Nebraska’s residents, particularly children.
My eyes opened wide when I saw the nitrate reading on this family’s drinking water well — at 30 parts per million, it was far above the safe drinking water standard set by the EPA.
Generations of corn growing, feedlot runoff and unwitting nitrogen overuse has left a sobering legacy buried in the Nebraska soil.
Nebraska’s groundwater is becoming increasingly laced with nitrate. And small towns, cities and rural Nebraskans are getting stuck paying the tab.
Nebraska’s children are at risk of being sickened by the state's corn and cattle industries — and the state’s failure to regulate them.
There are few staff to monitor Nebraska’s vast swaths of farmland, thousands of cattle feedlots, large hog operations and chicken farms. And the agencies’ own regulations don’t give the staff many tools to combat malpractice.
Recent studies have found that areas with elevated nitrate levels also have elevated levels of lymphoma, leukemia and brain cancers in children.