Drinking water and nitrates

Nitrate usually occurs naturally in drinking water and even in high quantities they shouldn’t be a problem for most adults. For children and susceptible adults, a higher doze can become dangerous. Nitrates usually result from human activities like fertilizing and waste disposal.

These are sources of nitrogen that is converted in nitrates in the soil. Nitrates are highly soluble in water.

Governments usually establish a maximum accepted level of nitrates in the water. The standard level is 10 milligrams per liter.

Water contamination produces near industrial zones, like municipal zones, refuse dumps, animal feeding lots, etc. The movement of nitrates through the soil depend on different factors like the type of soil and its characteristics, climate conditions, location of wells, etc.

It is quite impossible to locate the source of nitrates for a particular well, as underground waters can become infested from miles and miles away from the place.

The average intake of nitrates is about 75 to 100 mg per day, and 250 mg for a vegetarian. The amount is higher as most nitrates come from plants, not from water. Vegetables rich in nitrates are lettuces, spinach and celery. Drinking water provides 5 to 10 percent of the daily quantity of nitrates.

Health effects

One of the most common health problems that usually occur is methemoglobinemia, but it only appears on infants under six months of age. If left untreated, it can lead to brain damage and also death. Infants are more prone to this affection because of the higher quantity of liquids that they ingest. Adults are also susceptible to problems. Usually pregnant women with an enzyme deficiency, adults with stomach acidity problems. Methemoglobinemia can be easily spotted and usually is treated immediately.

Also nitrates can cause stomach and intestine cancer. If your water is contaminated with nitrates, it may also contain pesticides and fertilizers, bacteria, viruses.


Never give infants and susceptible adults water with a higher concentration of 10 mg/l. Bottled water is usually safe and chemically analyzed. You can install de-ionization, reverse osmosis and distillation systems to prevent nitrates poisoning. Simple filters do not get rid of nitrates.

Drilling a deeper well may solve the problem, but it doesn’t guarantee success.

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