Where do nitrates come from?

The primary source of nitrate contamination in well water is fertilizers that use both potassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate. Less common sources of nitrates include human sewage, livestock manure, and naturally occurring nitrates in well water.

What are the health effects of nitrates?

Ingestion of water containing high nitrate concentrations can be fatal to infants and livestock. Nitrates can also be absorbed through the skin. High levels of nitrates in drinking water can cause Methemoglobinemia in infants, a temporary blood disorder involving oxygen deficiency, also known as “blue baby syndrome. When the nitrate contamination is removed, the effects become reversible. Although extreme levels of nitrates have been associated with central nervous disorders in adults, it should be noted that nitrates are rarely associated with problems in humans older than six months.

We always recommend doing your own research on potential health effects of nitrates and any consumable contamination.

Treatment methods

There are two common choices for effective residential nitrate mitigation systems: An ion exchange system for whole-house nitrate mitigation, or a reverse osmosis system for drinking and cooking water, which is usually installed under the kitchen sink.

  • Whole house/Ion Exchange System:
    All faucets, hot and cold, can be treated, and when plumbed accordingly, hose bibs and/or outside water for the garden, pets, and livestock can be treated as well. Nitrate mitigation systems work like water softeners but use nitrate-specific resin media for ion exchange. Ion exchange reduces nitrates to a level below the MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level) and, in most cases, to non-detectable levels.
  • Point-of-Use Reverse Osmosis System:
    Reverse Osmosis (RO) reduces all contaminants below the MCL and, in most cases, to non-detectable levels. RO water is plumbed to an RO faucet, and to the refrigerator, when applicable.

Testing is needed to check if other water treatment is necessary. Ion exchange and reverse osmosis systems require iron-free water with low hardness to avoid occluding/plugging the nitrate resin and RO membrane.