Water Education - Contaminants Facts

Drinking Water Contaminants - Nitrates / Nitrites

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Nitrates and nitrites are nitrogen-oxygen chemical units that combine with various organic and inorganic compounds. Once taken into the body, nitrates are converted into nitrites. The greatest use of nitrates is as a fertilizer.

Why are Nitrates/Nitrites being regulated?

In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires EPA to determine safe levels of chemicals in drinking water that do or may cause health problems. These non-enforceable levels, based solely on possible health risks and exposure, are called Maximum Contaminant Level Goals.

The MCLG for nitrates has been set at 10 parts per million (ppm), and for nitrites at 1 ppm because EPA believes this level of protection would not cause any of the potential health problems described below.

Danger Nitrate and Nitrite

Based on this MCLG, EPA has set an enforceable standard called a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). MCLs are set as close to the MCLGs as possible, considering the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies.

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Read Next: Health Risks of Heavy Metals

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