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Get Informed | What are Nitrates / Nitrites?

Nitrogen is the nutrient applied in the largest quantities for lawn and garden care and crop production. In addition to fertilizer, nitrogen occurs naturally in the soil in organic forms from decaying plant and animal residues. In the soil, bacteria convert various forms of nitrogen to nitrate, a nitrogen/oxygen ion (NO3-). This is desirable as the majority of the nitrogen used by plants is absorbed in the nitrate form. However, nitrate is highly leachable and readily moves with water through the soil profile. If there is excessive rainfall or over-irrigation, nitrate will be leached below the plant's root zone and may eventually reach groundwater. When organic nitrogen decomposes, it is typically converted to ammonia-N and then oxidized to nitrite-nitrogen and ultimately nitrate-nitrogen. Nitrite is used in food processing to cure meat, because it acts to inhibit the growth of certain bacteria.

Nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) or Nitrite-nitrogen (NO2-N) in groundwater may result from point sources such as sewage disposal systems and livestock facilities or non-point sources such as fertilized cropland, parks, golf courses, lawn and gardens, or naturally occurring sources of nitrogen. Proper site selection for the location of domestic water wells and proper well construction can reduce potential nitrate contamination of drinking water source. Nitrate or nitrite in water is undetectable without testing because it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless.

How Do Nitrates / Nitrites Become a problem?

The primary health hazard from drinking water with nitrate-nitrogen occurs when nitrate is transformed to nitrite in the digestive system. The nitrite oxidizes the iron in the hemoglobin of the red blood cells to form methemoglobin, which lacks the oxygen-carrying ability of hemoglobin. This creates the condition known as methemoglobinemia (sometimes referred to as "blue baby syndrome"), in which blood lacks the ability to carry sufficient oxygen to the individual body cells causing the veins and skin to appear blue.

Note - The health concern is primarily related to potential exposure through consumption by infants.

In the environment, elevated levels of nitrate and nitrite may be associated with algal production in ponds, lakes, and even some streams/rivers in a process called eutrophication.

What are the Health Risks for Nitrates / Nitrites?

Most humans over one year of age have the ability to rapidly convert methemoglobin back to oxyhemoglobin; hence, the total amount of methemoglobin within red blood cells remains low in spite of relatively high levels of nitrate/nitrite uptake. However, in infants under six months of age, the enzyme systems for reducing methemoglobin to oxyhemoglobin are incompletely developed and methemoglobinemia can occur. This also may happen in older individuals who have genetically impaired enzyme systems for metabolizing methemoglobin.

What are the Standards for Nitrates / Nitrite?

The EPA maximum contaminant level for nitrite (NO2-N) is 1 mg N/L or 1000 ppb and for nitrate (NO3-N)  is 10 mg N/L or 10,000 ppb.

Get Tested | Nitrates/ Nitrite

Like many contaminants in drinking water, these nitrogen compounds are potentially hazardous at levels or concentrations that do not impart a noticeable taste, odor, or appearance to the water; the exception is ammonia which does have a strong odor. Your best course of action is to get your water tested and compile as much information as possible about your water supply source, well construction, surrounding land-use, and local geology. If you do have a nitrate/nitrite problem, there are water treatment technologies available now that can reduce or even remove nitrate/nitrite from your drinking water.

Note - Do not just test your water for nitrates/nitrites because there may be other primary and secondary drinking water standards that are elevated or that may interfere with the proposed remediation system. Elevated nitrate/ nitrite levels are typically associated with elevated levels of total coliform, E. coli., herbicides, pesticides, waterborne pathogens, and various salts.

Level 1 | Observational Self-Testing

Level 1 Testing is done with simple observations that an individual can make with their own senses such as sight, smell, and taste. These observations can be readily apparent or can be observed as they change over time. In addition, accessible related information about the home can also be used to narrow down the cause of your water issues.

Observations for Nitrates / Nitrites

The symptoms/source for nitrate/nitrite in the water include:

  • If you are located in a farming/agricultural area or an area that relies on the use of land-based or individual septic systems or where biosolids or sludges are applied to the soils.
  • You have a problem with the presence of total coliform and/or E. coli. in your drinking water.
  • The streams, lakes, and ponds in your area are very green with a high algal growth and the lakes are classified as eutrophic and subject to algal blooms.


Level 1 | Self-Test Web App
To do a quick and easy self diagnosis of your water, click the button below.
Launch

Level 2 | Do-It-Yourself Testing

Level 2 Testing is Do-It-Yourself testing that can be done in your own home using a Testing Kit. After you’ve done Level 1 Testing, Level 2 Testing can confirm if your observations are correct. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment (see below) or continue to Level 3 Testing.

Notes on Level 2 Testing for Nitrates / Nitrites

In many cases, an elevated presence of nitrates and nitrites in drinking water is related to a local activity or condition that is near the surface.  Because of this situation, it is possible for the presence of an elevated level of nitrate and/or nitrite to be intermittent and high immediately after a large rain event or snow melt.  When conducting screening testing, we also recommend monitoring the bacterial quality of the water.

Recommended Level 2 Tests
National Testing LabsWaterCheck® Standard

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View
National Testing LabsWater Check Deluxe

<div class="product-note in-L4-carbon-filtration">Note: For rural Areas with <a href="/indoor-6/herbicides-pesticides">Herbicides and Pesticides</a> Usage</div>

View
National Testing LabsCityCheck Standard

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View
Filter WaterFW-210 Under-Sink Reverse Osmosis System (Code A27AC)

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L</div>
<div class="product-note in-L6-uranium">Note: Uranium less than < 0.030 mg/L</div>

View
Crystal QuestThunder 4000M Reverse Osmosis System with UV

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L (POU Device System Component)</div>

View
Recommended Products
National Testing LabsL3-NATE-W-4 | WaterCheck® Standard

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View
National Testing LabsL3-NATE-W-2 | WaterCheck Deluxe

<div class="product-note in-L4-carbon-filtration">Note: For rural Areas with <a href="/indoor-6/herbicides-pesticides">Herbicides and Pesticides</a> Usage</div>

View
National Testing LabsL3-NATE-C-3 | CityCheck Standard

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View
Filter WaterST-FILT-F-03 | FW-210 Under-Sink Reverse Osmosis System

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L</div>
<div class="product-note in-L6-uranium">Note: Uranium less than < 0.030 mg/L</div>

View
Crystal QuestLT-CRYS-T-01 | Thunder 4000M Reverse Osmosis System with UV

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L (POU Device System Component)</div>

View
Neighborhood Environmental Report

Order a Neighborhood Environmental Report to learn about potential hazards in your community.

Level 3 | Informational Testing

Level 3 Testing is done through an accredited Water Testing Laboratory. With Level 3 Testing, you can order a testing kit that is used to prepare your sample and submit it to the lab. By utilizing a lab, you have the assurance that a certified water expert had analyzed your water sample. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment options (see below) or continue to Level 4 Testing - Certified Testing.

Notes on Level 3 Testing for Nitrates / Nitrites

If you are located in an agricultural area or an area with high fertilizer usage that may also use pesticides, we would recommend the Well Water Check Deluxe kit, if not, order a Well Water Check Standard.  For City Water users, we recommend the City Water Standard Kit. See below.

Recommended Level 3 Tests
National Testing LabsWaterCheck® Standard

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View
National Testing LabsWater Check Deluxe

<div class="product-note in-L4-carbon-filtration">Note: For rural Areas with <a href="/indoor-6/herbicides-pesticides">Herbicides and Pesticides</a> Usage</div>

View
National Testing LabsCityCheck Standard

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View
Filter WaterFW-210 Under-Sink Reverse Osmosis System (Code A27AC)

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L</div>
<div class="product-note in-L6-uranium">Note: Uranium less than < 0.030 mg/L</div>

View
Crystal QuestThunder 4000M Reverse Osmosis System with UV

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L (POU Device System Component)</div>

View

Level 4 | Certified Testing

A Level 4 Certified Test Test uses chain-of-custody with a water professional coming to your home to prepare the water sample and then works with an accredited laboratory in order to certify your test results. This type of testing not only gives you the highest level of assurance in the accuracy of your test results, but can also be used as a document in legal cases. For Baseline Testing, we recommend that you use Certified Testing.

Notes on Level 4 Testing for Nitrates / Nitrites

If you suspect a problem with nitrates, we strongly recommend conducting adequate testing that may need to include bacteria, nitrate, nitrite, ammonia, surfactants, quats (quaternary ammonium), and other parameters specific to the potential source.

Neighborhood Environmental Report

Order a Neighborhood Environmental Report to learn about potential hazards in your community.

Get Treatment | Nitrates

Pretreatment may be needed in some cases to ensure acceptable treatment by the primary unit. Some of the treatment technologies may not be amenable to point-of-entry, whole-house treatments. In these cases, point-of-use units may be the best option. Periodic testing should be maintained after the treatment system is in place to ensure objectives are being met and the system is operating properly. Because the concentration of nitrate and nitrite can suddenly change, for unregulated systems, we recommend quarterly testing for the first year and annual system maintenance.

Short Term Treatment

If it appears you are experiencing a problem with nitrate or nitrite, do not boil your drinking water. An interim solution may be the use of a point-of-use device or using a bottled water source. Because other contaminants may be present in the water, it would be advisable to have the water tested before and after the use of any point-of-use device.  It is critical to determine if the water has a problem with bacteria, i.e., nuisance bacteria, total coliform, E. coli., nitrate reduction bacteria, or  possibly contamination associated with human waste and agricultural/fertilizer usage, such as herbicides and pesticides. These recommendations assume the only problem is nitrate.

Recommended Short-Term Treatments

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L4-carbon-filtration">Note: For rural Areas with <a href="/indoor-6/herbicides-pesticides">Herbicides and Pesticides</a> Usage</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L</div>
<div class="product-note in-L6-uranium">Note: Uranium less than < 0.030 mg/L</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L (POU Device System Component)</div>

View
Contact a KnowYourH2O Recommended Professional

Submit a Request for Consultation with the KnowYourH20 Team. Contact Us

Long Term Treatment

For the long-term, it may be necessary to install a water treatment system. For nitrate, the common water treatment technologies are ion-exchange, reverse osmosis, distillation, and if nitrite is present an oxidation system may be needed to oxidize the nitrite to nitrate. Depending on the technology and the concentration of nitrate/nitrite and other contaminants, the system may require a number of treatment approaches and a combination of a whole-house treatment and then point-of-use treatment.

Recommended Long-Term Treatments

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L4-carbon-filtration">Note: For rural Areas with <a href="/indoor-6/herbicides-pesticides">Herbicides and Pesticides</a> Usage</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L</div>
<div class="product-note in-L6-uranium">Note: Uranium less than < 0.030 mg/L</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L (POU Device System Component)</div>

View
Contact a KnowYourH2O Recommended Professional

Submit a Request for Consultation with the KnowYourH20 Team. Contact Us