In rural areas, Nitrate is one of the most common chemical contaminants of groundwater. While nitrate is harmful to infants, it may not affect older children and adults as much.
This contaminated water may also have harmful content like pesticides or bacteria Nitrates in Water. So, how to Remove Nitrates from Water?
It is an organic mixture that appears due to various conditions in the environment. Their occurrence could either be natural or synthetic. Nitrate is made from a compound consisting of the following elements.
- 1 atom of nitrogen (N)
- 3 atoms of oxygen (O)
This compound is present on the periodic table by the chemical symbol NO3.
If nitrate is reduced, its properties change and it turns in nitrate (NO2). Nitrate itself does not cause health problems until it turns in nitrite.
- How Much Nitrates Are Safe in Drinking Water?
- How Do Nitrates Get Into Our Water?
- Why Does My Tap Water Contain Nitrates?
- Nitrates in Water Side Effects
- Why Is Nitrate Contamination a Public Health Concern?
- How Do You Test for Water Nitrates?
- What Should You Do If You Discover Nitrates in Your Drinking Water?
- Prevention of Nitrates From Getting Into Your Water
- Nitrate Removal Methods From Your Drinking Water
- How to Remove Nitrates From Water – FAQs
- Solving the Nitrate Problem – Conclusion
How Much Nitrates Are Safe in Drinking Water?
By calculating the amount of nitrogen in the water, it would be easy to find out if there are any nitrates in it. The standardized amount of this chemical in water should not surpass 10 mg/liter (nitrate-N). The amount should not be more than 45 mg l (nitrate-NO3) in terms of both nitrogen & oxygen.
How Do Nitrates Get Into Our Water?
There are 3 ways that lead to the exposure of groundwater to nitrate.
Nitrogen is amply present in fertilizers. When they get used to the maintenance of plants, a large number of nitrogen releases. The leftover nitrogen that is not used by the plants ends up in two ways.
- It either becomes vaporous
- Gets carried by surface excrement to groundwater.
By the time nitrogen reaches groundwater, it turns into nitrate. This process keeps nitrogen away from the crops. The concentration level of nitrates increases in groundwater. This makes it unacceptable to consume.
Manure Storage/Spreading Options
Nitrogen in manure is released from barnyards, storage places & field.
These systems potentially increase nitrate concentration levels in groundwater. They only discard 50% of nitrates into wastewater. This leaves the other 50% to reach and infuse into the water in the ground by itself.
Why Does My Tap Water Contain Nitrates?
Nitrate occurs in groundwater or surface water naturally. They do not cause health problems in general. If the level of nitrate in your tap water is high, then that could be due to the following reasons.
- Unprofessional good construction.
- Unfit well location.
- Overusing chemical fertilizers.
- Illegitimate disposal of animal/human waste.
Wells are more prone to nitrate & bacterial contamination post a flood. This only happens if the wells get submerged by floods for longer periods of time.
Nitrates in Water Side Effects
Momentary exposure of nitrogen to drinking water would lead to an increase in the concentration level of nitrates. If that level crosses 10 mg l, it could definitely become a health hazard mainly affecting infants. They have higher liquid intake regimes relative to their body weight. Especially in cases using water to prepare formulas and concentrated juices for babies.
Effects on Adults and Children
Infants have immature digestive systems. Their systems are likely to accommodate the conversion of nitrate to nitrite. This does not happen to adult digestive systems. If the digestive tracts of babies contain nitrite, it may cause a disease called methemoglobinemia.
Water with lower nitrate levels than the basic standard supplies an insignificant amount of an adult’s nitrate intake. Approximately 90% of nitrate in adults get consumed through vegetables. However, there is a rare chance of this to affect your wellbeing. A very low volume of nitrate that vegetables contain, converts to nitrite.
Meat intake contributes less than 10% of the nitrogen in a person’s diet. But this meat intake would release approximately 60%-90% of nitrite. This happens due to the presence of sodium nitrite in hot dogs, ham & bacon. On the other hand, dairy products, fruits & grains consist of almost none of the two.
For more information on the effects of nitrates & nitrites visit this page.
What Are the Health Effects of Nitrates?
As per the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services consumption of nitrogen can cause several health issues.
Most of them are as follows:
Due to the fact that nitrogen converts to nitrite, it becomes a health hazard. The conversion of nitrates to nitrites takes place in the saliva of people of all ages. This includes inside the gastrointestinal tract of infants.
Acute (Short-Term) Effects
Nitrite infusion in the bloodstream changes the standard form of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries the oxygen present in your blood to the rest of your body. When nitrite gets into the blood, the standard form of hemoglobin changes into methemoglobin. That does not carry any oxygen.
If the concentration of nitrates in water increases, it leads to a temporary blood disorder in infants called “Blue Baby Syndrome”. This disease in untreated cases causes brain damage. This leads to death due to suffocation from lack of oxygen.
Early symptoms of this illness include:
- Lack of energy
- Labored breathing
A blue-gray/pale-purple coloration in areas surrounding the eyes, mouth, lips, hands & feet thus the name, “Blue Baby Syndrome”. When water consumed has less than 10 ppm (parts per million) of nitrate, no cases of this disease get reported. The majority of cases evolve due to exposure to levels that are as high as 50 ppm.
For healthy adults to catch this disease, the concentration level of nitrate needs to be much higher. Pregnant women are prone to the effects of nitrate later in their pregnancy (around 30th week).
People with higher vulnerability are the ones with rare conditions that are hereditary. Those who have a higher volume of methemoglobin in their blood. People with digestive issues, due to low stomach acidity, may also get this disease.
If you boil water with a high level of nitrates, it would increase the concentration of nitrate. This would happen because water evaporates when boiled. You must avoid doing this at all costs.
Chronic (Long-Term) Effects
The only chronic effect caused due to nitrate exposure is methemoglobinemia. No other life-threatening effects have been established yet.
Cancer-Causing (Carcinogenic) Effects
When nitrates convert to nitrites in a body, it may react with some amine-containing material found in food to form nitrosamines. These nitrosamines are potentially cancer-causing chemicals. The formation of nitrosamine takes place by antioxidants. These antioxidants are present in Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
A lab study on the effects of nitrates in rodents took place. In the study, these rodents were given chemicals. Those chemicals had amine along with high levels of nitrites. The result of that study showed a spread of lung cancer, liver cancer, and esophagus cancer among rodents.
Experts conducted epidemiological studies on pregnant women. These women had elevated levels of nitrate present in their groundwater. The results showed negative effects on their babies. Other experts also conducted the same type of study on animals. It showed no negative effects on reproduction or development due to maternal exposure.
Why Is Nitrate Contamination a Public Health Concern?
Nitrate Contamination of Groundwater
Various epidemiological studies took place in the human population. The results showed connections between gastric cancer & high levels of nitrates in water.
In 1995, a National Academy of Science committee reviewed the available scientific data on nitrate. They concluded that “Exposure to nitrates and nitrites concentrations in drinking water in the United States is highly unlikely to pose a cancer risk in human beings”.
After this study, over 30 more epidemiologic studies took place. They evaluated the consumption of drinking water and its possible outcomes. After these studies, the researchers stated that the strongest evidence of a connection between nitrate ingestion through water & adverse health outcomes (apart from “methemoglobinemia”) is for the following:
- Colorectal Cancer
- Thyroid Disease
- Neural Tube Defects
What Are the Safe Maximum Contaminant Level Goals of Nitrates?
In 1974, Congress passed the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. It was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s responsibility to set standards for safe drinking water. All the states adopted this standard. It was mandatory for the authorities of each state to enforce these standards set by the U.S. E.P.A with immediate effect.
Potential health risks are either unknown or hard to predict. A lot of drinking water standards are set based upon the “No-Observed Adverse Health Effects” level. Generally, if the uncertainty of possible health effects is great, the safety margin built into the drinking water standards would be great too.
The National Academy of Science conducted a research on this matter. They concluded that “As per the available evidence, the infliction of methemoglobinemia in infants confirms a volume close to 10 mg l of nitrogen in the form of nitrate. This is the maximum level of “No-Observed Adverse Health Effect” but the margin of safety is still a bit narrow in this value”.
Nitrates & Your Well-Being
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States established an MCLG – Maximum Contaminant Level Goal. This took place to identify and remove nitrates in the drinking water system for the public. These MCLGs cannot be enforced as public wellbeing goals for water systems. As calculated by the EPA, no harmful effects would befall your health by consuming 2 liters of contaminated drinking water every day for the next 70 years.
Along with that, the EPA also established MCL – Maximum Contaminant Level for nitrates in water for the public.
MCLs can be enforced as drinking water standards set by a balance between the following:
- Adverse health effects of a particular chemical.
- Feasibility & cost of treating the water that gets contaminated by that chemical.
- The MCL for nitrates set by the EPA is 10 ppm. This is sufficient to safeguard sensitive populations and babies from methemoglobinemia.
How Do You Test for Water Nitrates?
In New York State, public water supplies are always tested for nitrates. The testing takes place in two ways based upon where the water originates from.
- If the source is surface water, then they are annually tested.
- If the source is groundwater, then it’s done once every 3 years.
When nitrate levels are not close to the defined public safety standards the frequency of tests increases. This is to acquire possible sources of nitrate which are then investigated thoroughly.
Nitrate Test in Water Procedure
You may get a public water supply tested from your municipal water department. You can also reach out to your country/regional office of the NYS Department of Health.
In the case of private water supply users, no routine tests take place for nitrate. However, you should be able to get that water nitrates test done easily. You can get the tests done from an NYS-Certified private laboratory for an inexpensive cost. You can check with your county’s Cooperative Extension office or your Regional Department of Health. Moreover, you may even check Yellow Pages under “Laboratories-testing” to find a reliable and certified laboratory.
Once you locate a laboratory, reach out to them and confirm ways of sending them a sample. Also, be sure to ask them what form you should send it to them in. Mostly, these laboratories ask for the sample in chilled or frozen form, fixed with sulphuric acid. Sulphuric acid prevents bacteria from making any changes to the sample’s original chemical formation.
Nitrate Test Kit for Drinking Water
If you face a problem in your drinking water, then you may reach out to your State Certification Officer. They would give you a list of labs in your vicinity that would test the water & charge you a fee.
Apart from that, you can test the water on your own by using a water test kit the same as the one in the image above.
What Should You Do If You Discover Nitrates in Your Drinking Water?
The best solution would be to switch to an alternative water supply for drinking water. Other methods to fix this issue are as follows. Try to eliminate or reduce the contaminant level. Although reducing nitrate concentration is not a swift process. It may not even work if you use well water.
Get help from your county’s Cooperative Extension office or Regional Department of Health. They might find & clean contaminant sources for you.
Water-treatment units for households are usually a limited option. Installing a distillation system would remove water nitrates. But this setup is very costly. Reverse osmosis units are also effective but costly systems to remove nitrate. Reverse osmosis would improve drinking water quality as well.
Anion-exchange units are comparatively cheaper. But its effects do not last longer than a few months before it saturates and requires a recharge. Regular water testing is essential to keep track of the efficiency of any of these systems.
Sources of Nitrate
It is difficult to list down all sources of nitrates. There are multiple ways through which nitrate may appear in our daily use. A few examples of these sources are as follow:
- Runoff/Seepage from fertilized agricultural lands.
- Industrial/Municipal wastewater.
- Refuse dumps.
- Animal feedlots.
- Septic tanks.
- Private sewage disposal systems.
- Urban drainage.
- Decaying plant debris.
- Geologic formations.
- Groundwater flow direction.
Does Boiling Water Eliminate Nitrates?
Sadly, there is no simple way to make drinking water nitrate-free at home. Nitrate does not evaporate like chlorine. If you boil, freeze, or let water stand, the nitrate level will not reduce. In fact, if you boil water for over 10 minutes, it would concentrate nitrate in that water even more. Also, if water gets boiled in an aluminum pan, it may convert nitrate into nitrite which is twice as harmful.
Prevention of Nitrates From Getting Into Your Water
You need to buy bottled water as the safest alternative if there are nitrate levels in your water supply. However, there is a considerable variation in nitrate levels even in bottled water. In some states, it is mandatory to have bottled water tested annually for nitrates. The results of those tests need to be below the state standard. If they are under the threshold, the companies may not report them to the Department of Health. Whereas, they would provide exact test results to consumers willingly.
Generally, distilled mineral water has lower nitrate levels than springs mineral-water. Another low-nitrate source of water comes from municipal water supplies. In cities, water comes from large lakes or reservoirs. Since these lakes and reservoirs have large quantities of water, any source of nitrate could be diluted in them.
To haul water from springs, lakes, or streams on your own is quite risky. The levels of nitrate and the presence of bacteria would be unknown in this case. Private wells have similar risks but they can get tested for contaminants easily.
Collecting rainwater is also risky. Rooftop cisterns usually contain lead solder. It easily dissolves in rainwater. This rainwater could possibly contain asbestos & other contaminants from roofing material as well.
Therefore, alternative water supplies are as potent as their storage, source & collection method. Be sure to find out about the exact levels of nitrate & bacteria present in a supply before you make a choice. Another problem could be bacterial contamination. It may lead to the reduction of nitrate to nitrite. The presence of bacteria may also cause illness.
Nitrate Removal Methods From Your Drinking Water
So, how to remove nitrates from water?
You can remove nitrates from water through the following methods:
- Ion exchange resin,
- Reverse osmosis
These contaminants are difficult to remove from drinking water. They can be removed by three sources, namely:
- Sediment fibers
- Carbon filters
- An infiltration system that has a hollow fiber membrane.
A normal ion-exchange water softener will neither reduce nor remove nitrates. If you install an anion resin tank at the water passage, it would be most effective. You may install an under-sink reverse osmosis system to purify drinking water. A water distiller is also helpful for the removal of nitrate from small batches of water at a time.
This process forces water by pressure through a semipermeable membrane. It is covered with microscopic pores. The pores act like a sieve that separates water from contaminants. This membrane has fine microns that remove nitrates. The purified water then passes through and gathers in a storage tank. Reverse osmosis removes around 83% – 92% of nitrates from water.
Water gets wasted in the reverse osmosis process. Older models of RO systems wasted as much as 10% of water. Nowadays, reverse osmosis water filters are greatly efficient. You may need good pressure of water flow to propel water through the membrane. If your water pressure is low, you must install an RO booster pump for better efficiency and results.
Passing water through ion exchange is one of the most effective ways to discard this contaminant It is present in water softeners mostly. These softeners use a saline solution to revive resin beads with sodium ions. When hard water flows through this filter, calcium and magnesium ions switch with sodium ions before it leaves the tank.
This system may not last very long. But it would still remove impurities from your drinking water effectively. You might need to change the filter. You may also add more softener to the system after the first batch has worn out.
Water distillers discard all water impurities through a natural filtration process. This process is the hydrologic cycle. Like oceans, lakes & reservoirs, water evaporates from the surface. In the evaporation process, the impurities in water droplets disperse. This happens when water turns to vapor. The list of contaminants that are removed in this case are:
- Sediment &
Since vapor condenses in the sky returning to Earth in the form of rain or snow. This process is precipitation. Rain/Snow water is soft, mildly acidic & contaminant-free.
Water distillers use the same process. You have to place water in a chamber with a heating rod or plate. This rod or plate would boil the water until it converts to steam. The steam then enters a cooling coil. There, the water would chill and return to its liquid state.
This water then gets collected in a glass or plastic jug. When liquid changes to gas by this method, all impurities get left behind in the boiling chamber. Those contaminants are removed by the carbon post-filter in the distiller. Nitrates do not survive the distillation process.
These are very powerful distillers. Their purification process is very slow and quite costly. Water gets distilled by every drop which is time-consuming. It takes about 4-6 hours to distill a gallon of water. These distillers also take a lot of energy to purify water as well. Despite the drawbacks, this process ensures that your water consumption is nitrate-free.
Removal Methods of Nitrates & Nitrites From Groundwater
Removing nitrate from groundwater through biological methods is vastly studied and applied.
The cost-effective way to do this is by Autotrophic Denitrification of groundwater. It is a slow process. Autotrophic denitrification produces less quantity of biomass. It reduces the cost of post-treatment by using CO2 and HCO3 as its carbon source for the synthesis of new cells.
Water Distillation – The Most Effective Method to Deal With Nitrate Issues
Water purification systems are available for nitrate removal. They require constant maintenance and are expensive. It requires regular maintenance and replacement of parts. If your vicinity contains nitrate in its water source, then you must switch to bottled water. It is a better alternative to safe drinking water.
How to remove nitrates from your water is essential question. Nitrate can be consumed through vegetables and meat as well. Water nitrates may raise health issues. Due to the presence of this contaminant in food, its consumption increases. This would lead to a greater risk for us being prone to the diseases caused by it. If water gets treated to remove nitrates, the only form of its intake will be through food. This would further reduce the possibility of serious health conditions.
In general, boiling water is the safest. It is also an inexpensive way of treating drinking water from various impurities. Most of the people adopted this method worldwide. However, as mentioned earlier, the boiling leads to evaporation of water into vapors. As a result, high saturation of nitrate gets left behind. You might need to consider boiling treatment in this case. Also, avoid using aluminum pots for this purpose.
The safest and natural method of obtaining nitrate-free water is to harvest it from rain. But if you prefer rainwater, you need to select a material that is safe from bacterial accumulation. And it has to be carefully selected keeping all health concerns in mind.
How to Remove Nitrates From Water – FAQs
Yes, bottled or distilled water is a source of low nitrate water. Municipal water sources are also an effective way to get low nitrate water.
Several people claim that they have built a nitrate filter by themselves. But we do not believe there to be a trusted source available. As a suggestion, the treatment of nitrate water should be professionally handled. Doing it yourself would just be a waste of time and money with no guaranteed result.
Using water nitrates externally has no effects. It cannot penetrate through your skin. You can use it to bathe, swim and shower. Avoid swallowing this water during your bath.
Unfortunately, nitrate cannot be naturally detected in water through senses. Only a test from a laboratory can detect the presence of nitrate in water.
Reduce the intake of processed food and cured meat. It will help remove this contaminant from your body. Avoid usage of food mentioning sodium or potassium nitrates and nitrites. Intake of organic and high antioxidant diet also reduces this contaminant.
Solving the Nitrate Problem – Conclusion
There is no threat of using water that contains 10 ppm of Nitrate. It is still necessary to reduce the contamination to the lowest level possible. EPA suggests that the general public can consume 2 liters of water with a nitrate concentration of 10 mg l. This quantity would not be a major threat to your health for the next 70 years.
EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, established in 1970, formed regulations and implemented them. EPA takes strict actions against potential environmental hazards affecting the human population. To date, distillation is the only filtration process that completely removes nitrate from water. Whether it is naturally done or virtually. It is the most effective method to deal with nitrate issues.