It is absolutely impossible to see, smell or taste certain pollutants from drinking water. Nitrites and nitrates are pollutants and are associated with severe health risks, particularly for infants and pregnant women. By 2015, a total of 2 million people had access to water that exceeded public health recommendations for nitrites and nitrates. Nitrites and nitrates may penetrate drinking water in many ways.
Nitrogenous bacteria excrete nitrites and nitrates naturally in the soil. Nitrite is converted to nitrate through a complex process known as “nitrification” that is part of the complex nitrogen cycle. Nitrite and nitrate also have many other sources, including the atmosphere, agricultural runoff, and wastewater discharge. In terms of human activities, both compounds are important components of fertilizers. As agricultural activity increases today, nitrates and nitrites are increasingly abundant in soils all over the world. Even in manufacturing, nitrite and nitrate salts are used in meat processing processes.
Excessive nitrate consumption carries a number of health risks. Methemoglobinemia, also known as a blue baby syndrome, is among the greatest risks. After ingestion, the human body decreases nitrate to nitrite. Nitrite then converts normal hemoglobin (Hb), a protein in the blood that carries oxygen to body tissues, to methemoglobin (metHb), which is incapable of carrying oxygen. For example, high nitrate concentrations in drinking water can cause severe hypoxia in the body. Methemoglobinemia can cause cyanosis, skin discoloration, or even asphyxiation. Infants produce nitrites more quickly but are less resilient to its effects than adults. Methemoglobinemia is referred to as “blue baby syndrome” because babies who have been affected by it can turn blue due to a lack of oxygen. The blue baby syndrome is also a risk to fetuses in the womb, so expectant mothers should test the water for nitrates especially if they live near farmland that relies on private wells. There are numerous other health risks related to nitrates in water, including thyroid problems, birth defects, and cancer.
Nitrates and nitrates may enter your drinking water from a variety of sources. The greatest pollution risks are to private wells. Water systems often rely on their own groundwater wells for their source of water, which means nitrates and nitrates enter water treatment plants in a manner similar to what they would in a private well. If you are dependent on private well water, you are at a higher risk of nitrate contamination if your well is nearby. Because excess levels are often applied to the land for cultivation and livestock manure may not be well managed, nitrate easily drains into groundwater pumped from wells. To determine whether your water contains nitrites and nitrates, you must perform laboratory tests. If you are in a high-risk environment such as an agricultural area or farm, we recommend a higher accuracy test for nitrate. You may also want to consider a nitrification or denitrification test for bacteria. If you find nitrates in your drinking water supply and you have a baby, do not add this water to the infant formula or allow them to drink it. You can install a home processing system such as reverse osmosis, ion exchange, or distillation. Boiling water does not remove nitrite/nitrates, it will actually increase their concentrations by evaporating some of the water around them, so be careful.