Nitrate is a form of nitrogen, an element whose
compounds are vital components of foods and
It is tasteless, odorless and colorless and
comes from various sources such as plants and other
organic matter, which return nitrate to the soil as
Septic sewer systems, waste from
animal feedlots and the application of nitrogen-based
fertilizers also discharge nitrates into the
What happens to nitrate when it gets into the
Nitrate that is not used by plants for growth can
build up in and move through soil. Precipitation,
irrigation and sandy soils allow nitrate to move
around and find its way into surface water and
Why is nitrate in ground water a concern?
Ground water wells supply a large portion of the
drinking water for Clark County residents. High
levels of nitrate in drinking water are associated
with adverse health effects.
How can nitrate affect my health or my child’s
People may be exposed to nitrate in both food and
water. In healthy adults and older children, ingested
nitrate is excreted rapidly in the urine. Exposure to
fairly large amounts of nitrate is not usually
associated with short-term adverse effects.
younger than 6 months of age, however, are sensitive to nitrate poisoning, which may result in
serious illness or death. The illness occurs when
nitrate is converted to nitrite in a child’s body.
Nitrite reduces oxygen in the child’s blood, causing
shortness of breath and blueness of the skin, hence
the name “blue baby syndrome.”
The technical term
for this condition is methemoglobinemia.
illness can cause a child’s health to deteriorate
rapidly over a period of days.
Long-term: Nitrates and nitrites have the potential to
cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure
at levels above the maximum contaminant level
Increased starchy deposits
Hemorrhaging of the spleen
How is nitrate in ground water regulated?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)
has established a federal drinking water standard
MCL of 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L) or 10 parts
per million (ppm) for nitrate.
The Nevada ground
water quality standard is also 10 mg/L.
Systems (PWS) are required to sample for various contaminants including nitrate, on a regular basis.
There is no required sampling of domestic wells.
However, the Southern Nevada Health District
recommends that owners test their wells for nitrate on a regular basis.
How do I find out if my well is contaminated
out if there is nitrate in your domestic well water,
have it tested by a laboratory certified for nitrate testing by the State of Nevada.
provide sampling bottles and instructions. Contact
the Southern Nevada Health District or look in the Yellow Pages under “Laboratories Analytical or Testing” for a certified laboratory serving your area.
It is a good idea to
have a routine nitrate test at least once a year. You should also have your water tested for nitrate if you
are a woman planning on becoming pregnant or if
infants will be using the water.
What if nitrate is found in my water?
If the nitrate concentration exceeds the MCL of 10
mg/L, do not give the water to any infant under 6
months of age, either directly or in formula.
Infants should be provided with water from a source that
has been tested and shown to be low in nitrate.
Commercially bottled water is required to meet the
nitrate standard and is safe for infants.
Do not boil
high nitrate water to “treat” it.
Although it is
common to think of boiling, softening or filtering as
a means of purifying water, none of these methods
reduce nitrate contamination.
concentrates the nitrate due to evaporation of the
While reverse osmosis units can be used to
remove nitrates from your water, home water
treatment units are not recommended for treating
high nitrate water that will be given to infants.
is no foolproof way of knowing when the treatment
system may fail and blue baby syndrome has been
known to occur after just one day of exposure to
high nitrate water.
It is a good idea to have the well inspected by a
licensed well contractor if the well is old or if you do
not know whether it is structurally sound.
Nitrate problems are sometimes caused by structural flaws,
which allow contaminated surface water to enter the
Repairing the well may result in a significant
reduction of the nitrate level.
To find licensed well
drillers in your area, look in the Yellow Pages under “Water Well Drilling and Service."
Communicate with the Division of Water Resource prior to conducting any work upon a domestic wel
Identify and remove sources of nitrate near the well.
Fertilizers, animal wastes and sewage systems
should be located and managed so that they do not
contaminate the well. Our office recommends establishing a minimum 100 foot buffer for relocating these items. More accurate buffers require consultation with a ground water scientist.
Septic sewage systems can fail
if the tank or leach field is damaged. The tank or
leach field can be damaged by driving over it or planting trees in or very near it. Contact the Health District's Individual Septic Disposal System (ISDS) Office for further assistance.
The leach field can
be damaged by covering it with a nonporous
material like plastic sheeting or concrete and it can
be damaged by exceeding its liquid capacity for a
long period of time due to a malfunctioning water
softener or a leaking toilet flush tank valve.
of failure can usually be identified by a wet area and
odor over the leach field. Repairing the leach field
will often reduce the nitrates to a safe level in the drinking water. Contact the Health District's Individual Septic Disposal System (ISDS) Office for further assistance prior to making any modifications.