Home » Water Quality » Water Test » How to Measure Nitrates in Water (Testing)

How to Measure Nitrates in Water (Testing)

Scott Winfield
Last Updated on
by Scott Winfield

Nitrates are naturally occurring compounds on earth that are composed of nitrogen and oxygen elements. Amounts of nitrates in foods and water exceeding 10 milligrams per liter can lead to toxicity levels.

Here’s how to test for nitrate in water:

  1. Collect the sample water and put it into the sample bottle.
  2. Place about 2.5 milliliters of sample water into a clean test tube.
  3. Top this with Mixed Acid Reagent to 5.0 milliliters.
  4. Let it rest for about 3 minutes to react.
  5. Using a 0.1-gram spoon, scoop a level amount and leave it for about 9 minutes.
  6. Place the test tube in a comparator of nitrate-nitrogen, then check the color of the sample compared to the color of the standard.
  7. Document results in parts per million or milligram per liter of nitrate. Nitrogen is then converted to a milligram per nitrate after multiplying it with a factor of 4.4
  8. Safely dispose of the sample that is reacting.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency approves 1 milligram of nitrites in every liter of drinking water. In addition, it allows for nitrates below 10 parts per million in water for human consumption based on its regulations in 2012.

What happens if Nitrate Levels are too high?

Nigh nitrate toxicity in humans causes methemoglobinemia, elevated heart rate, muscle weakness, ptyalism, and depression. In aquatic life, elevated levels of nitrates promote eutrophication, where rapid algae and plant growth overshadow planktons and contaminate them with water-living animals like fish.

Side effects exhibited from nitrates toxicity include hypotension, arrhythmias, headache, flushing, and dizziness. Furthermore, these lethal repercussions of high nitrates have precipitated cancers such as colon cancer.

How Nitrates Get into Water

Nitrates find their way into water mostly from farming chemicals like pesticides, fertilizers, and plant growth hormones. In addition, poor disposal of industrial wastes, leaking septic systems, and landfills release a significant amount of nitrogen.

Wrong location and construction of water wells are also contributing factors.


Why is Testing for Nitrate Important?

A nitrogen test is paramount because it helps to reduce soil and water contamination by nitrates, primarily because of human activities.

Controlled nitrates emission will help save aquatic life as animals like fish will breathe fresh air and consume less contaminated plankton, thus boosting their population. Additionally, the nitrates in our soils will be controlled efficiently, promoting healthy food production.

Testing for nitrates is beneficial because quality control standards are set to help eliminate toxicity in foods consumed by humans. Diseases associated with poisoned foods such as methemoglobinemia, colon cancers, and cardiovascular-related disorders will be decreased.

High amounts of nitrates, when ingested in drinking water, tend to mix and combine with endogenous chemicals such as amines and amide in the gastrointestinal tract to form N nitroso compounds like nitrosamines.

Nitrosamine in the alimentary canal reacts with internal linings in a carcinogenic manner. Thus, it ultimately results in tumors and carcinoma.

The nitroso compounds are also linked to cancers in the lungs, bladder, liver, skin, trachea, bone, thyroid, myelocytic leukemia, and T and B cell lymphomas.

The rectum has similar epithelial linings to colon cells. The nitrosamine compounds react with the cells from the colon to the rectum precipitating carcinogenic activities.

What Measures Should We Take To Prevent Nitrates Toxicity?

  • Control and minimize too much use of agrochemicals
  • Reduce stagnant and untreated water
  • Discourage open-air defecation
  • Manufacturing industries must embrace Good Disposal Practices
  • Adequate sewage treatment
  • Remove nitrates from water by denitrification processes such as physicochemical processes and biological processes
  • Minimize giving drinking water to infants but encourage breastfeeding
  • Discourage giving high nitrogenous food to infants when weaning
  • Minimize too much use of nitrogenous preservatives in drinks and foods like meat
  • Develop policies and set standards to control nitrates production and consumption. (WHO, 2004)

Frequently Asked Questions

Is nitrate toxicity dangerous for young children?

Yes, the high amounts of nitrates cause a complex condition in infants where it results in methemoglobinemia leading to a syndrome called blue baby.

Are there benefits of nitrates in the human body?

Yes, in the gastrointestinal tract, nitrates have been found to have antimicrobial properties, while endogenous nitrous oxide has been seen to act as vasodilators in the cardiovascular system.

What is the relationship between nitrates and diabetes?

Nitrates are inversely related to diabetes. A study done on 2,212 individuals found that those who had the highest intake of nitrates had a 34% lower risk of developing diabetes than those who had the lowest intake.

Another study on 1,393 individuals found that every 50mg/day increase in dietary nitrate intake was associated with a 12% lower risk of developing diabetes.

What are some good sources of nitrates?

Some good sources of nitrates are leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, arugula, and kale. Other sources include beets, beetroot juice, and celery.

How can I remove nitrates from my water?

There are a few ways to remove nitrates from your water. One way is to use a reverse osmosis system. Another way is to denitrify your water using bacteria.

Is nitrate toxicity lethal to the respiratory system?

Yes, too much concentration of nitrates in inhaled air tends to irritate the cells along the airway and results in an increased mucous secretion that blocks the gaseous exchange system. Consequently, inhalation and exhalation processes are impaired, and the individual produces a wheezing sound, characterized by asthmatic attacks.

Can poisonous nitrate amounts affect pregnancy?

Yes, nitrates toxicity has been connected to abortions where stillbirths, low birth weights, slow weight gain, and deaths have been evidenced by teratogenicity caused by N-nitroso compounds formed from drinking contaminated water. The adverse effects of methemoglobinemia caused by lethal nitrate doses impair fetal growth. The transplacental passage of these toxins leads to congenital disabilities.

How does nitrate poisoning cause thyroid malformations?

Elevated concentrations of nitrates consumed tend to inhibit iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. The impairment of iodine trapping in the thyroid gland is goitrogenic and may result in malformations in the gland.

Sign Up For Free 2023 Water Defense Guide!

Join our 1 Million+ strong water defense community and get updated on the latest product news & gear reviews. Plus, get a FREE 21-page "2023 Water Defense Guide" with exclusive content NOT on this site!

We HATE spam. Your e-mail will never sold or shared!

Scott Winfield
Scott Winfield
My name is Scott Winfield and researching and writing about water filters and other strategies to purify water has become my full time passion in recent years. I'm glad that you found our site and you can look forward to authoritative and well researched content here to help you get the best in water.
1 Comment
  1. I appreciate you mentioning that one should compare the sample’s color to the standard’s color. I have moved into a new home and want to filter the water to improve the quality of the drinking water. I intend to hire a water nitrate filtration service to put in my home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *