Test your water for nitrates / nitrites with the Culligan TK-2 Test Kit.
This is a fact sheet about a chemical that may be found in some public or
private drinking water supplies. It may cause health problems if found
in amounts greater than the health standard set by the United States
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is Nitrates / Nitrites and how is it used?
Nitrates and nitrites are nitrogen-oxygen chemical units which combines
with various organic and inorganic compounds. Once taken into the body,
nitrates are converted into nitrites. The greatest use of nitrates is as
Why is Nitrates / Nitrites being regulated?
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires
EPA to determine safe levels of chemicals in drinking water which do or
may cause health problems. These non-enforceable levels, based solely on
possible health risks and exposure, are called Maximum Contaminant Level
The MCLG for nitrates has been set at 10 parts per million (ppm),
and for nitrites at 1 ppm, because EPA believes this level of protection
would not cause any of the potential health problems described below.
Based on this MCLG, EPA has set an enforceable standard called a
Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). MCLs are set as close to the MCLGs as
possible, considering the ability of public water systems to detect and
remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies.
The MCL for nitrates has been set at 10 ppm, and for nitrites at 1
ppm, because EPA believes, given present technology and resources, this
is the lowest level to which water systems can reasonably be required to
remove this contaminant should it occur in drinking water.
These drinking water standards and the regulations for ensuring
these standards are met, are called National Primary Drinking Water
Regulations. All public water supplies must abide by these regulations.
What are the health effects?
Short-term: Excessive levels of nitrate in drinking water have caused
serious illness and sometimes death. The serious illness in infants is
due to the conversion of nitrate to nitrite by the body, which can
interfere with the oxygen-carrying capacity of the childs blood. This
can be an acute condition in which health deteriorates rapidly over a
period of days. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blueness of the
Long-term: Nitrates and nitrites have the potential to cause the
following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL:
diuresis, increased starchy deposits and hemorrhaging of the spleen.
How much Nitrates / Nitrites is produced and released to the environment?
Most nitrogenous materials in natural waters tend to be converted to
nitrate, so all sources of combined nitrogen, particularly organic
nitrogen and ammonia, should be considered as potential nitrate sources.
Primary sources of organic nitrates include human sewage and livestock
manure, especially from feedlots.
The primary inorganic nitrates which may contaminate drinking
water are potassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate both of which are
widely used as fertilizers.
According to the Toxics Release Inventory, releases to water and land
totaled over 112 million pounds from 1991 through 1993. The largest
releases of inorganic nitrates occurred in Georgia and California.
What happens to Nitrates/Nitrites when it is released to the environment?
Since they are very soluble and do not bind to soils, nitrates have a high
potential to migrate to ground water. Because they do not evaporate,
nitrates / nitrites are likely to remain in water until consumed by plants
or other organisms.
How will Nitrates / Nitrites be detected in and removed from my drinking
The regulation for nitrates / nitrites became effective in 1992. Between
1993 and 1995, EPA required your water supplier to collect water samples
at least once a year and analyze tem to find out if nitrates/nitrites
are present above 50 percent of their MCLs. If it is present above this
level, the system must continue to monitor this contaminant every 3
If contaminant levels are found to be consistently above their
MCLs, your water supplier must take steps to reduce the amount of
nitrates / nitrites so that they are consistently below that level. The
following treatment methods have been approved by EPA for removing
nitrates / nitrites: Ion exchange, Reverse Osmosis, Electrodialysis.
How will I know if Nitrates / Nitrites is in my drinking water?
If the levels of nitrates / nitrites exceed their MCLs, the system must
notify the public via newspapers, radio, TV and other means. Additional
actions, such as providing alternative drinking water supplies, may be
required to prevent serious risks to public health.
This is a factsheet about a chemical that may be found in some
public or private drinking water supplies. It may cause health problems
if found in amounts greater than the health standard set by the United
States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
|Drinking Water Standards (ppm):
Nitrates / Nitrites Releases to Water and Land, 1987 to 1993 (in pounds):
|Misc. Ind. inorganics
|Misc. Metal ores
|Misc. Ind. organics
Note: This fact sheet is part of a larger publication
adapted from U.S. EPA publication: EPA National Primary Drinking Water
* Water/Land totals only include facilities with releases greater
than 10,000 lbs.