nitrates in water

Nitrates and Nitrites

What is nitrate?

Nitrates are nitrogen-oxygen chemical units or radicals, with the chemical formula NO3-. Nitrates can combine with various organic acids to form amino acids, or combine with inorganic units such as NH4+ to form a chemical compound called ammonium nitrate. This is a fertilizer which makes green plants grow faster, bigger and better. Fertilizer is its greatest use but it has several other uses, even as powerful explosives!

What is a nitrite?

Once taken into the body, nitrates are converted by anaerobic bacteria in the intestinal tract to become nitrites. Nitrate units lose one oxygen atom to become nitrite with the chemical formula NO2-. This is where a very serious health effects can occur, especially to pregnant women, young infants and others.


What are the main health threats of nitrate and nitrite?

When nitrite enters the bloodstream of a pregnant female or developing fetus, it can cause a temporary blood disorder called methemoglobinemia (Blue Baby). If a pregnant woman consumes as little as one glass of water containing nitrates during the first trimester of her pregnancy, it may cause a birth defect in one of the major developing organs! Because of this, the Federal Government office for drinking water regulation under the E.P.A., has set the maximum contaminant level for this contaminant at 10 mg/L (or ppm) nitrate as nitrogen.

Many public water supplies in the United States routinely have levels of nitrate that exceed the standard. While there have been numerous cases where infants have drunk water containing greater than 10.0 mg/L, without developing the disease, there have also been cases where babies have died when the nitrate level was less than 10 mg/L. The ingestion of nitrite directly would have a more immediate and direct effect on the infant because the bacterial conversion step in the stomach would be eliminated. (Water that contains both nitrates and nitrites usually indicates that pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria are also present. That is yet health concern.

What are the symptoms and other health effects of nitrate/nitrite poisoning?

Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue baby syndrome. Infants below six months who drink water containing nitrate in excess of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die. This health effects language is not intended to catalog all possible health effects for nitrate. Rather, it is intended to inform consumers of some of the possible health effects associated with nitrate in drinking water.

Are babies and pregnant women the only ones to be concerned?

Another rather large group of people that need to be particularly concerned about the dangers of consuming nitrates/nitrites are the elderly or anyone else with a compromised immune system. When nitrites combine with amino acids found in meat proteins, nitrosamines are formed, and according to research studies done by the Eppley Cancer Institute, can lead to stomach and colon cancers.

How does nitrate get into my drinking water?

The major sources of nitrates in drinking water are runoff from fertilizer use; leaking from septic tanks, sewage; and Captureerosion of natural deposits. This is part of the price we pay for green lawn and 200 bushels/acre corn!

How will I know if nitrate is in my drinking water? When routine monitoring indicates that nitrate levels are above the MCL, your water supplier must take steps to reduce the amount of nitrate so that it is below that level. In most communities in rural areas, the levels of nitrates peak in May and September. Nitrate test results will be the most accurate at that time. Water suppliers must notify their customers as soon as practical, but no later than 24 hours after the system learns of the violation. Additional actions, such as providing alternative drinking water supplies, may be required to prevent serious risks to public health.

How will nitrate be removed from my drinking water?

The most effective and consistent method for nitrate removal below 10 mg/L is distillation. Other methods that are somewhat effective are: reverse osmosis, and ion exchange, Carbon filters do not work.

What can I do about this information?

Share it. Learn more about this problem by continuing to study nitrate/nitrite problems and other water problems. Invest in a good in-home test for both nitrates and nitrites and learn how to interpret the test results. Then offer the best solution for this problem. Buy and use water distillers because they are the best way to eliminate this drinking water threat. Become a Pure Water Dealer. This could very well help to prevent serious risks to public health in your area.

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