Nitrate levels are regularly monitored in drinking water to ensure compliance with EPA standards. WETLAB regularly tests for Nitrate, Nitrite, and Total Nitrogen concentration in water and soils using a variety of methods, including EPA 300.0, EPA 353.2, and EPA 9056. But how does increased Nitrogen load in drinking water occur, and what are the possible health risks associated with high levels?
Increased Nitrogen concentration in surface water is observed in areas with fertilizer runoff, often from agricultural areas. Increased Nitrogen concentration in ground water is also observed in areas with farming, and areas with high concentrations of septic systems. In farming and agricultural areas, fertilizers (such as potassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate) are essential for growing crops, but decompose into the soil to increase nutrient concentration. This is also observed from decomposing animal manure, and from decomposing human sewage from septic tanks.
This increased Nitrogen concentration is often referred to as “Nutrient Pollution,” as Nitrogen and various other elements are essential to our soils and atmosphere, but can cause problems when the concentration reaches a certain threshold. The EPA has defined this threshold for Nitrate as 10.0 mg/L, and for Nitrite as 1.0 mg/L. Potential health effects from increased Nitrogen concentration are most often seen in infants less than 6 months old, resulting in methemoglobinemia, a temporary blood disorder referred to as “blue baby syndrome.” Adults are usually not as susceptible to this condition.
More information about Nitrate contamination in drinking water can be found through the EPA here.