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Learn More: Nitrates and Nitrites

Learn more about nitrates and nitrites; naturally occurring compounds of nitrogen and oxygen and are often found in well water. What are their health effects? How is contamination treated? Tier1 is here to help answer those questions.

Nitrates and Nitrites: What are they?

Nitrates and nitrites are naturally occurring compounds of nitrogen and oxygen. Because they can be converted to one another, they’re often grouped together when discussed as contaminants.

Nitrate (NO3) is a molecule composed of nitrogen and oxygen, developed when nitrogen merges with oxygenated water. As part of a natural chemical process in the body, nitrate is reduced to nitrite.

Most often related to plant growth, nitrate is found in many vegetables, where it is consumed with no harmful effects. Nitrate is not an issue at natural levels. But high levels of nitrates can contaminate drinking water with serious health consequences.

Contamination Sources

Inorganic Nitrates – such as potassium and ammonium nitrate - are widely used in fertilizers, and are the most common inorganic nitrates in water. Elevated nitrate levels in drinking water are often caused by groundwater contamination from animal waste run-off from dairies and feedlots, excessive use of fertilizers, or seepage of human sewage from private septic systems.

The EPA has determined the MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level) for nitrate at 10 ppm. It is believed that at this level or below, nitrates in drinking water would not cause the average person any health problems.

Health Concerns

Nitrite is of particular health concern in the body because it causes the hemoglobin in the blood to change to methemoglobin. Methemoglobin reduces the amount of oxygen that can be carried in the blood. This results in cells throughout the body being deprived of sufficient oxygen to function properly, a condition called methemoglobinemia.

Infants, particularly those under six months of age, are the most at risk of developing serious health problems from drinking water that contains elevated levels of nitrate or nitrite, in particular Blue Baby Syndrome, where the lack of oxygen causes the baby’s skin to turn a bluish color, particularly around the eyes and mouth. If untreated, infants can die from this condition.

Pregnant women are particularly susceptible to methemoglobinemia and should be sure that the nitrate and nitrite in their well water is at safe levels.

Nitrate in Well Water: Testing

Nitrates in drinking water are colorless, odorless, and tasteless, and can only be detected in laboratory testing. Public water systems are tested to ensure that they conform to certain drinking water standards, but there are no requirements about the testing of private wells.

Nitrate Treatment

Several techniques may be used to reduce nitrate in drinking water including chemical reduction, ion exchange, reverse osmosis, electrodialysis, and distillation.

If you have any additional questions, please contact our Customer Service Team.

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