The question exists as to whether or not nitrates and nitrites are dangerous to human beings. Generally, nitrates and nitrates exist within the environment, but they are at relatively low levels. In these instances, nitrates and nitrites do not cause any harm. It is when the levels are much higher than is recommended that problems arrive. This may lead you to the conclusion that you must consider testing your water for excess nitrates and nitrites so that you can seek ways to lower the concentrations of these chemicals. This issue will be of particular concern if you are pregnant or have a newborn baby in the house.
What Are Nitrates & Nitrites?
Nitrates and nitrites are polyatomic ions, and they occur naturally within the environment. Plants make nitrates and obtain nourishment from them as well. The bodies of humans and animals also make nitrates and nitrites.
Fertilizer manufacturers use nitrates to make inorganic fertilizers. Nitrates are also used to create explosives as well as the potassium nitrate that is needed to make glass. Sodium nitrate is a substance that food manufacturers use to cure meats, but it is also retained as a preservative for other types of foods.
As nitrates are found in fertilizer, they can move into the environment from the farmlands, and this is why we find that there are nitrates in water. They can also enter groundwater and surface water from water treatment plants. Nitrates also come from human and animal waste and septic tanks.
How to Test for Nitrates and Nitrites
The Environmental Protection Agency strongly suggests that you test for nitrates in your well water every year. Those who do not own a well should also test for nitrates so that you know when there is a problem that you will need to confront. You have the option of testing your water with a home test kit. This type of kit uses test strips to tell you if the nitrates in water are higher than they should be, but this may not be the best way to do this.
Rather than perform the test yourself, you might want to ask the professionals to do a test for you because home test kits are not as accurate as professional lab testing. These laboratories use testing methods that have been approved by the EPA.
Laboratory testing requires some preparation. First, put an ice pack in your freezer for 24 hours. The next day, you will sample your water by placing it into vials so that it can be shipped to the lab. Place the frozen ice pack and the vials of water in a Styrofoam box, and send the package overnight to the lab. The sample needs to be no more than 48 hours old to be tested, so if you mail it right away, it should be good for testing.
Health Effects of Nitrates & Nitrites in Water
There are a few nitrates side effects to mention that can endanger your health. For example, hemoglobin is the chemical within our blood that transports oxygen from one cell to another. When nitrates are present, they upset this transfer. That’s because nitrates change hemoglobin into methemoglobin, and it reduces the blood’s ability to transfer oxygen throughout the body. Normally, your body contains methemoglobin at a rate of 2.5 percent, but this rate is increased when nitrates are present. When this occurs, you are said to be “oxygen-starved.”
Oxygen starvation causes your lips, ears and nose to turn blue. If this situation continues, you can develop respiratory illnesses and heart problems, and some people have even died as a result of this starvation.
Babies are more vulnerable to the effects of nitrates because they have exceptionally high pH levels in their stomachs. Nitrate contamination also affects pregnant women who have a higher level of methemoglobin during their pregnancies.
The medical community believes that nitrates may play a role in the development of cancer, but more scientific research needs to be done before they can make this statement definitively.
It’s important if you are expecting a baby to know whether you have nitrates and nitrites in your water system. The nitrates side effects are too disastrous for you to take chances. So, if there is a question in your mind about whether or not there are nitrates and nitrites in your water, a good plan would be to have your water tested now so that you can address the issue in a timely manner.