What are Nitrates/Nitrites and how are they used?
Nitrates and nitrites are nitrogen-oxygen chemical units which combines with various organic and inorganic compounds. Once taken into the body, nitrates are converted into nitrites. The greatest use of nitrates is as a fertilizer.
What are the health effects?
Short-term: Excessive levels of nitrate in drinking water have caused serious illness and sometimes death. The serious illness in infants is due to the conversion of nitrate to nitrite by the body, which can interfere with the oxygen-carrying capacity of the childs blood. This can be an acute condition in which health deteriorates rapidly over a period of days. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blueness of the skin.
Long-term: Nitrates and nitrites have the potential to cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: diuresis, increased starchy deposits and hemorrhaging of the spleen.
How much Nitrates/Nitrites are produced and released to the environment?
Most nitrogenous materials in natural waters tend to be converted to nitrate, so all sources of combined nitrogen, particularly organic nitrogen and ammonia, should be considered as potential nitrate sources. Primary sources of organic nitrates include human sewage and livestock manure, especially from feedlots.
The primary inorganic nitrates which may contaminate drinking water are potassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate both of which are widely used as fertilizers.
According to the Toxics Release Inventory, releases to water and land totaled over 112 million pounds from 1991 through 1993. The largest releases of inorganic nitrates occurred in Georgia and California.
What happens to Nitrates/Nitrites when they are released to the environment?
Since they are very soluble and do not bind to soils, nitrates have a high potential to migrate to ground water. Because they do not evaporate, nitrates/nitrites are likely to remain in water until consumed by plants or other organisms.
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