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The Effects of Nitrate in Drinking Water

Nitrogen exists in several forms in the environment as part of the nitrogen cycle. Nitrate (NO3) is one of these forms and is particularly important when looking at drinking water. Nitrate is very soluble in water and is therefore easily transported into various water systems from sources.

The main sources of nitrate found in ground and surface waters include fertilizers from agricultural practices, wastewater treatment, septic systems and manure. Nitrate can be transported between water systems via rain or irrigation through soils.

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets the standards and regulations for the quality of drinking water and assists in their implementation through the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The EPA identifies and sets limits for contaminants to ensure water is safe for consumption by the public.

The Maximum Contaminant Level of nitrate in drinking water set by the EPA is 10 mg/L. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) lays out the standards applicable to public water systems.

Disclaimer: This video is hosted in a third-party site and may contain advertising.
This video excerpt is part of Beta Analytic’s webinar: Nutrient Source Tracking

Nitrate in Drinking Water

One of the key associated risks with elevated nitrate levels in drinking water is the condition termed “blue baby” syndrome or methemoglobinemia that affects newborn infants. This potentially fatal condition impairs the ability of blood to transport oxygen.

Additionally, in line with the common sources of nitrate, high levels of nitrate in drinking water can also be an indicator of the presence of dangerous contaminants like pesticides.

Beta Analytic – Nitrate Source Testing

ISO 17025-accredited Beta Analytic provides fast and accurate nitrate source testing. Measuring the d18O and d15N of nitrate in drinking water can be a crucial tool to identify sources of nitrate and thereby inform water management strategies to deal with pollutants. Various anthropogenic and natural nitrate sources have different isotope ratios, thereby these measurements can help identify the origins of the nitrate present.

Beta Analytic results are available online 24/7. The lab provides a sampling guide to ensure accurate results. For inquiries, please contact the lab.


McCasland, M., Trautmann N. M., Porter K. S. and Wagenet, R. J., 2012, Nitrate: Health Effects in Drinking Water, Cornell University Cooperative Extension(accessed February 2019).

Speijers, G. J. A and Fawell, J. K., 2011, Nitrate and Nitrite in Drinking-water, World Health Organization (accessed January 2019).

United States Environmental Protection Agency, [no date], Drinking Water Contaminants – Standards and Regulations (accessed February 2019).

United States Environmental Protection Agency, [no date], National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (accessed February 2019).

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 30th, 2019 and is filed under Nitrate Test, Source Tracking in water .