Nitrates in my drinking water. How do I remove?

How Do I Remove Nitrates from my Water?

So you’ve heard some of your neighbors talking about how the nitrate levels in your area are high, and now they’ve got you worried.  You’re wondering how nitrates get into the water? How much nitrate is too much? And how can it be removed?

How do nitrates and nitrites get into water?

Nitrates often find their way into drinking water through the erosion of natural deposits in the ground and do not generally cause health problems. But human activities such as fertilizer and manure applications in farming are increasingly becoming the greatest source of elevated concentrations of nitrates in drinking water. Rain or irrigation waters can transport nitrates into rivers or streams or down through the soil into aquifers.

According to EPA.gov, the three main culprits of nitrate contamination are: “Runoff fromTop Reasons for Nitrates in Water fertilizer use; leaking from septic tanks, sewage; erosion of natural deposits.”

Just to be clear, there is a correlation between nitrate and nitrite. Once nitrates are taken into the body (animal or human) via our water or food, nitrates are converted to nitrites. 

What’s the risk if nitrate levels are too high?

As long as the nitrate level in your water remains below the US EPA maximum contaminant level (MCL), there is no need for concern. But if people or animals drink water that is high or above the nitrate MCL, it may cause health problems. Per the “Safe Water Drinking Act“, the EPA has determined that the maximum contaminant level of nitrate is 10 milligrams per Liter (mg/L).  The EPA site states: “Infants below six months who drink water containing nitrate in excess of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die.” 

Too much nitrate in the body isn’t good for babies, the elderly, chronically ill–or anyone! Nitrate in the body makes it harder for red blood cells to carry oxygen:

“Nitrite is absorbed in the blood, and hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying component of blood) is converted to methemoglobin. Methemoglobin does not carry oxygen efficiently. This results in a reduced oxygen supply to vital tissues such as the brain.” Colorado State University Extension

How do I know if the nitrate level of my water is too high?

If you’ve heard reports of high nitrate issues on the news or recently learned that your neighbor found their well water was high in nitrates, you may wonder about your water. Because nitrates are tasteless, colorless, and odorless, the only way to determine if the concentration of nitrates in your water is above the maximum contaminant level is by having your water tested. Your local water treatment professional can provide such a test.

To be clear, if you receive water from a municipal water treatment plant, municipalities are required to test and treat water to be within EPA guidelines for contamination levels. The challenge is that the pipes that carry water to homes can be a culprit to increasing nitrate levels. According to the World Health Organization (WHO):

“Nitrite can also be formed chemically in distribution pipes by Nitrosomonas bacteria during stagnation of nitrate-containing and oxygen-poor drinking-water in galvanized steel pipes or if chloramination is used to provide a residual disinfectant and the process is not sufficiently well controlled.” 

In addition, numerous households in the US are not on city water, but use well water and are thus often unaware of the nitrate level of their well water. 

What we all can do to help:

The EPA suggests that many homeowners unknowingly wash fertilizers and herbicides down the storm sewers which then empty into the nearest stream. We can do our part to help keep our waterways pesticide and fertilizer-free by practicing the following tips:

• If you spread granular weed-and feed type fertilizer, keep it on the lawn. If granules accidentally land on paved areas, sweep them onto the grass.
• If you use a liquid herbicide, be careful not to overspray the lawn, and do not spray it on a windy day. The herbicides may land on the street or sidewalk and wash into the storm sewer. They may also drift onto shrubs and sensitive garden plants, or across your property line.
• When cleaning your fertilizer or herbicide application equipment, the rinse water will contain small concentrations of chemicals. Therefore, do not wash the equipment on the driveway and do not dump any water into the gutter or storm sewer grate. Apply the rinse water to the lawn. 

You may want to begin using an organic fertilizer or weed killer. A number of DIY weed killers like that from Choose Wiser can be found online, as well as DIY fertilizers. These solutions cost a fraction of those sold in stores—and are much better for the environment. 

Take the Worry Out of Your Water

If you currently have a nitrate problem, in the short-term you may consider bottled water for drinking or cooking–especially if you have an “at risk” family member (infant, pregnant or elderly). But for the long-term, you’ll want to take steps to eliminate the contamination of your household’s drinking water.

There are generally two accepted methods for removing nitrates in water: reverse osmosis (RO) and ion exchange technology. 

1. Reverse Osmosis is often a point of use application that is known to successfully remove 83-92 percent of nitrates in water thus being well within acceptable levels. Along with nitrate/nitrite removal, reverse osmosis technology can remove a variety of other impurities in your water including organics, inorganics, bacteria, and particulates. Ask a WaterTech authorized dealer about the RO PureMAX II system.

2. Ion Exchange: Another choice to address nitrate issues is ion exchange technology. WaterTech’s NitroMAX, a whole-house ion exchange water conditioner, effectively reduces and removes nitrates while simultaneously reducing water hardness and preventing scale buildup throughout the home. When you remove nitrates from your water, you immediately boost your water quality, making the water flowing through your home better for you and your family. Learn more about WaterTech’s NitroMax system by talking with an authorized WaterTech dealer in your area today.

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4 Responses

  1. does a household water softener reduce nitrates within the whole house system that is installed ? and does a carbon filter help with that at well?

    1. A water softener will not remove nitrates. You need a system that uses Nitrate specific media for removal on a whole house application (such as the NitroMAX http://www.watertech.com/product/specialty-water-treatment-systems/). You can also use RO to remove nitrates. http://www.watertech.com/product/ro-puremax-2-water-purifier/ This can be done on a single faucet application with a small under counter RO system or a whole-house application using a larger RO unit. I hope this answers your question.

  2. What does the NitroMAX (or similar nitrate specific systems ) substitute for the nitrates? That is, do you end up with higher sodium, chloride or something else? Does the effluent from the Nitro Max have to be secondarily treated (for drinking) in order to strip out anything that was substituted in the treatment process?

    1. The nitrates are exchanged for the chloride ion so you would end up with a higher concentration of chlorides in the water post treatment. No secondary treatment needs to be provided post NitroMAX processing unless chlorides exceed the EPA suggested maximum contaminant level (SMCL) of 250 mg/l, but then again, it is only a “suggestion” and the level is not enforced/regulated by the EPA.