Posted by Jeff Wahl on 6/20/2021 to Water Contaminants
Nitrates in Drinking Water
Nitrates are compounds that occur naturally within the earth but are found in elevated levels in agricultural communities and rural towns. While they do not present any taste or odor, drinking elevated levels of nitrates can cause illness in both humans and in livestock. Found in the earth’s atmosphere, in the soil, and in water, they are easily biodegradable and highly soluble in water. Homeowners with a drilled, dug or shore well should test concentrations of nitrate in their water supply on an annual basis either in the spring or fall, when nitrate concentrations are typically the highest.
Wells that are located in agricultural areas are susceptible to nitrate contamination, particularly shallow wells. Water containing levels of nitrate above the recommended levels should not be used to prepare formula or other foods for infants.
Public Health Unit Water Testing
Nitrates are not tested for during a bacterial analysis at most public health units in Canada. The Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guideline level of < 10 mg/L is not a requirement and nitrate in any level would go undetected in testing.
|Facts About Nitrates||Risks Associated with Drinking Water Containing Nitrates|
How Can I Test my Water for Nitrates?
To check for nitrates in water, it is important to know the source of your water. If you have a municipal water source, you can contact your municipality for information on testing in your city. If you live in the country, there are options to test with Licensed Laboratories, Water Treatment Dealers and local Health Units will have information on options for testing in your area. There is also an option for Single Use Nitrate Test Kits which can identify the presence of nitrates and is a good place to start if you are concerned about nitrates in your water.
Understanding Different Types of Water Treatment Equipment
Not all water treatment equipment is capable of removing nitrates from drinking water.
It is important to understand what a particular piece of equipment can remove / treat when considering a drinking water source. The following is a summary of the more common choices of equipment used in homes throughout Canada.
Pitcher Filtration Systems
Carbon media has the ability to remove the unwanted tastes and odours from water and is typically used in pitcher style filtration applications. They do not remove nitrates unless the packaging clearly indicates it does and this is not usually the case.
Under Sink Water Filters
Single, dual or triple filter housing systems are widely available at hardware stores and installed by plumbers and water treatment dealers. Check the filtration cartridge labels for their certifications, if nitrate removal is not clearly on the package, the filters may not remove it from the water.
Important Consideration for Drinking Water
Heating or boiling your water will not remove nitrate from water.
Ultra Violet (UV) Disinfection
An ultra violet disinfection system (UV) is commonly installed to treat water in rural applications. The UV process, while effective at bacterial disinfection when applied correctly will not treat nitrate and does not remove it from water. It is a common misconception that an ultra violet disinfection system removes water contaminants.
Ion exchange which occurs as part of the softening process can remove nitrate from the water if the media in the water softener is the correct type. Check with the manufacturer or company that installed your system for clarification as not all media is capable of removing nitrate.
Reverse osmosis (RO) involves the production of treated water passing through a semipermeable membrane, removing ions, molecules, and larger particles of harmful contaminants including nitrates. The reduction levels will vary based on the water quality characteristics, temperature and pressure. This technology is generally considered effective at nitrate removal.
Water has a lower boiling point than the contaminants and minerals within it. This means that if you boil untreated water, the water will turn into vapor and leave everything else behind. The process captures steam and condenses it back into water. Distilled water is considered to have a high purity level and is effective at nitrate removal.
Nitrate is an invisible, colourless & tasteless water contaminant that goes undetected unless specifically sampled for. It can be found naturally or through human introduction into water supplies. Reverse Osmosis and Distillation are generally considered to be the most effective ways to remove Nitrate from drinking water in residential applications. A standard Health Unit Water Test does not test for Nitrates and if you are unsure, contact a Certified Water Treatment Professional for advice on how to test for and remove Nitrates from your water.
Best Practice Recommendation
Without a proper test, it is not possible to know if this contaminant which has been linked to certain cancers, thyroid disease, birth defects and baby blue syndrome is present in your water supply.
Volume 5 - Issue 3 Wahl H2O - Water Awareness
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