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Water Contaminants
  Water and Health   Water Quality   Water Can Heal   Contaminants Facts   Air and Health


Drinking Water Contaminants - Nitrates / Nitrites

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What happens to Nitrates/Nitrites when they are 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 water?

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 months.

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 are 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.

Drinking Water Standards (ppm): MCLG MCL

Nitrate and Nitrite Releases to Water and Land: 1991 to 1993 (in pounds)

  Water Land




Top Fifteen States *
GA 12,114,253 12,028,585
CA 0 21,840,999
AL 3,463,097 6,014,674
LA 8,778,237 2,250
MO 6,985,890 206,181
MS 6,952,387 0
KS 5,140,000 877,095
VA 5,091,764 0
NV 0 4,977,482
FL 1,056,560 1,835,736
AR 1,206,610 1,058,294
MD 1,802,219 138,819
IA 1,500,340 132,042
OK 1,436,348 14,199
UT 0 1,045,400
Major Industries*
Nitrogenous fertilizer 41,584,611 8,607,376
Misc. Ind. inorganics 4,113,312 29,676,919
Misc. Metal ores 0 5,764,976
Misc. Ind. organics 5,091,764 0
Fertilizer mixing 480,000 4,554,916
Explosives 850,921 1,297,590
Paper mills 1,727,061 0
Pulp mills 1,321,500 3,350
Canned foods 0 1,056,794
Phosphate fertilizers 1,000,000 0

As part of the Drinking Water and Health pages, this fact sheet is part of a larger U.S. EPA publication:
EPA National Primary Drinking Water Regulations

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