Nitrates in Water Supply | Health Risks & How To Protect Yourself

nitrates in water, nitrates in drinking water

Nitrates in Drinking Water

With over 2,100 toxins that could be present in water, it’s vital that proper water filtration is carried out before consuming and using water. Drinking water pollution is a concern of many people. Nitrates in water is just one of many potential contaminants and pose a risk to humans when they are ingested. In the following post, we’ll look at where nitrate contamination comes from, the negative health effects nitrates in drinking can cause, and how to ensure your drinking water is free from nitrates.

How Do Nitrates End Up in a Water Supply?

Shallow wells, dug wells, and wells with damaged or leaking casings are the most susceptible to nitrate contamination. Nitrates are a typical groundwater contaminant that come from substance and animal waste fertilizers. Through a series of bacteria and chemical reactions, nitrate oxidizes uranium which then makes it soluble and able to drain into groundwater. Nitrates are present in 78% of uranium contaminated sites.

What Health Risks do Nitrates in Water Pose?

Raised levels of nitrates in water is a top contributor to pollution causing the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

A report launched by the Iowa Environmental Council has tried to summarize the associated health threats of nitrates in drinking water. Researchers examined over 100 reports on the health effects of nitrates in drinking water. They found several studies linked them to birth defects, urinary bladder cancer and thyroid cancer.

Nitrates in drinking water have negative health effects. It mainly affects people with pre-existing health conditions though. Nitrates affect the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen.

While many of the health issues were found with nitrate levels greater than the drinking water standards of 10 mg/L, some studies suggested nitrate levels lower than the drinking water standard may still pose health risks.

About 15 percent of private wells in Iowa can have nitrate levels that exceed federal standards.

Long term health effects on adolescents and adults exposed to high levels of nitrate in drinking water aren’t yet known or widely agreed upon in the scientific community. Elevated levels of nitrates in water may cause Blue Baby Syndrome. This can occur in babies under 6 months of age and which are bottle fed.

Nitrates in water may increase the potential risk of miscarriages and certain birth defects. The National Cancer Institute indicates a connection between improved levels of nitrate in water and a higher risk of non Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

How to test for and remove nitrates in drinking water

Over the years, nitrate water testing programs have collected valuable information linking well features and nitrate concentrations. There are a few choices for testing your private well water for nitrate nitrogen:

  1. Contact a professional water testing laboratory and follow their directions for testing water samples.
  2. Contact your county Environmental Services or Soil and Water Conservation District. Ask if they have access to a nitrate testing machine.
  3. If you live in Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) loans nitrate testing machines to several counties. These counties offer free nitrate testing for private well owners. For 2013-2019, the MDA is providing nitrate testing to 70,000 private well owners in agricultural areas with susceptible groundwater.

Typical practice for providing a test sample is to gather the water anytime within 1 day of the nitrate analysis. When you arrive at the nitrate testing clinic you’ll submit your sample, wait about five minutes, and then get your results.

If you have nitrates in water, it’s important to have a water treatment unit in place that reduces or removes nitrates in water. A reverse osmosis unit or similar purification system is the best line of defence. It’s important to remember that a water softener doesn’t reduce nitrates in water.

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