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      How Safe is Your Drinking Water?  >  Contaminants Resulting from Agriculture or Industry  >  Nitrate

Contaminants Resulting from Agriculture or Industry - Nitrate

Nitrate is a common contaminant of drinking water closely associated with agricultural activities. Nitrate in groundwater results primarily from fertilizer use (Gustafson, 1993). Fertilizer nitrogen that is not taken up by plants can leach its way into the soil in the form of nitrate. Nitrate (NO3) is a chemical ion, formed of one nitrogen atom and three oxygen atoms. Nitrate, in itself, is not normally dangerous to the human body except when it loses an oxygen atom, reducing to nitrite (NO2).

Nitrate in drinking water is particularly dangerous to infants and small children. In proportion to their body weight, infants consume a much larger amount of water than older children and adults. Also, a baby’s immature digestive system facilitates the reduction of nitrate to nitrite much more easily than a mature, adult digestive tract. Nitrate ingestion, at or exceeding the MCL of 10 milligrams per liter, can lead to a disease called methemoglobinemia in infants. This disease occurs when reduced nitrite ions react with hemoglobin to form methemoglobin. This altered form of the blood protein is unable to carry oxygen to the body’s systems, leading to asphyxia in severe cases (Gustafson, 1993). Though, methemoglobinemia, as a result of nitrate-contaminated drinking water, usually occurs only in infants, women who are pregnant can be vulnerable to the disease, as well.

Nitrate, when contained in drinking water in extreme levels (100-200 mg/l), can also cause cancer. Such high levels of nitrate can react with protein compounds in the body to form nitrosamine, a well-documented, cancer-causing agent. The main danger of nitrate is to infants less than six months old.

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How Safe is Your Drinking Water?
• Introduction - The Value of Drinking Water
• Groundwater and Surface Water
• Herbicides and Insecticides - History & Occurrence
• Herbicides and Insecticides - Specific Chemicals and Health Effects
• Nitrate
• Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs)
• Chlorine
• Chlorine Byproducts
• Fluoride - Recent Discoveries
• Fluoride - Adverse Health Effects
• Lead
• Mercury and Arsenic
• Bacteria and Viruses
• Protozoa
• Human and Animal Feces
• Conclusion - The Importance of Drinking Filtered Water
• References
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