Nitrates are a common contaminant found in private well water and the concentrations tend to be much higher in agricultural and rural communities. These contaminants don’t have a distinctive taste or odor and they can make people and animals sick if elevated volumes are consumed. In this article, we will explain how nitrates get into drinking water and how to remove them safely.

How Do Nitrates Get in My Water?

Nitrates are inorganic compounds that are composed of nitrogen and oxygen that can occur naturally or synthetically. They are found in water, soil and even the atmosphere, they are soluble in water and biodegradable.

Nitrates are formed by decaying animal waste, decomposing plants and they can be an agricultural byproduct. Nitrates enter the water supply in a number of ways including agricultural activity, stormwater runoff, industrial waste, and soil erosion. Many fertilizers are made with nitrates and any remaining deposits can be washed off into the soil during rainfall. They may be directed into drains, surface water sources or even seep into the ground and into underground aquifers.

Are Nitrates Safe to Consume?

The short answer is no. But, to qualify this it’s important to understand that the EPA has set a level of 10 mg/L as a safe limit. Because nitrates are a primary water quality contaminant these levels are enforced by law. That said, these maximum contaminant levels can only be enforced for municipal water supplies. Because private well water users are solely responsible for their own water quality these rules cannot be applied. So, if you do receive water with a high concentration of nitrates, you will need a water treatment system to remove this contaminant.

How Do I Remove Nitrates?

The first step is a water test kit that can be submitted to a certified laboratory. This will give you a detailed assessment of the water quality, the contaminants present, and their various concentrations. Remember that nitrates are tasteless, odorless, and colorless and the only way to confirm their presence is laboratory water testing.

There are a few proven methods to remove nitrates from drinking water. They are distillation, ion-exchange, and resin. Nitrates cannot be removed with carbon filters, sediment filters, UV purification, or ion-exchange water softener systems. Distillation is not a practical method because considerable energy is required to heat the water for prolonged periods and only small volumes can be produced each day.

The best way to remove nitrates and a wide variety of other contaminants from drinking water is a reverse osmosis (RO) system. The incoming water is placed under pressure and forced through a semi-permeable membrane filter with tiny pores. Virtually all contaminants including nitrates are left behind on the filter surface but water molecules can pass through. This process cleans the water to an exceptional level, this is a mechanical filter and no chemicals are added.

If you’re considering an RO filtration system installation in your home, contact your local water treatment specialist.

By EcoWater Systems.
EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is the largest water treatment company in the state and is a member of Water Quality Association.