Nitrates are one of the many types of water contaminants that many people in the United States and in other countries consume on a daily basis. Many Americans are not even aware that their water supply is contaminated with this chemical. And to those who know it, there remains one important question – how to remove nitrates from water?
Before we go into how to remove nitrates from tap water, it’s a good idea to understand what nitrate is and how it ends up in the water system.
Nitrate (not to be confused with nitrite) is an inorganic chemical that became popular due to its agricultural applications. In fact, nitrate is what gives plants their green color. This chemical is commonly used in fruits and vegetables that are grown for commercial purposes. It is also used for landscaping, particularly for fertilizing the turf. As growers water their plants that are fertilized with nitrate products, the run-off water mixes with the underground water supply, finding their way into your drinking water. Nitrates may also seep into drinking water through erosion of natural nitrate deposits and leakage from sewage and septic tanks.
Identifying the Presence of Nitrates in Your Water System
Per the “Safe Water Drinking Act“, the maximum contaminant level (MCL) of nitrate is 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L). In the US, all the major water utility companies have been reporting nitrate levels below the legal limit. However, there are many areas across the country served by smaller companies where the level of nitrate is above the legal limit. You can check the EWG’s Tap Water Database for more information on the level of nitrates and contaminants in your water utility.
Also, if your water is from a deep well, or if you live near an agricultural area, chances are the nitrate level in your water is higher than the legal limit. Sending your water sample to a test facility can confirm this.
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Effect of Nitrates on Our Health
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), nitrates and nitrite cause adverse health effects. When you drink water containing nitrates, they enter the bloodstream and attach themselves to the oxygen of hemoglobin (red blood cells). This, in turn, leads to oxygen deficiency in the blood cells, thereby changing hemoglobin to methemoglobin. This condition is known as methemoglobinemia or blue blood syndrome.
Blue blood syndrome is dangerous for new-born babies as well as for infants up to six months old. It also affects the elderly and those with a weakened immune system. For expecting moms, consuming water contaminated with nitrates in the early stages of pregnancy may also cause birth defects. In some cases, if the condition is not diagnosed, it may lead to premature death.
The effects of drinking water with nitrates is far from negligible. Because of this, nitrate removal is becoming a serious matter. Here are some simple ways on how to remove nitrates from drinking water.
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Reverse osmosis (RO) is a special type of water purification process that uses a semipermeable membrane to remove contaminants, larger molecules, particles, and other impurities from the drinking water. RO can successfully remove up to 92% of nitrates in water.
RO works by reversing the natural process of osmosis which is the tendency of water to pass through a semipermeable membrane from a low to the highly concentrated solution. To do this, an RO system uses pressure (typically from a pump) to overcome the natural osmotic pressure. This forces the water with loads of impurities to pass through a semipermeable membrane. This process results in highly purified water.
Point-of-entry (POE) filters
A point-of-entry filtration system is perhaps the most convenient way of making sure that the tap water in your whole house is free from nitrates. In the POE system, all the water that goes to your home passes through a filter before it is distributed to the different water outlets in your bathroom, sink and laundry area, among others.
Aside from convenience, POE is also cost-efficient as you only need one filter for the whole house. This is way more affordable than installing and maintaining individual water filters for every important water outlet.
Moreover, POE filters use multi-stage filtration systems and more types of media to get rid of a wide array of water contaminants, not just nitrates. It produces higher quality filtered water than what point-of-use filtration systems produce.
One drawback though for POE is the fact that installing it requires specialized plumbing skills.
For more info on how POE works and how to get one for your home, you can check your local plumbing service provider.
Another proven way on how to remove nitrates from drinking water is through ion exchange (IX). This system is used across a wide variety of industries for water purification, softening and separation purposes. The chemistry of individual ion exchange may vary from one application to another but they all follow the same principle where dissolved ions are replaced with more desirable ions with a similar electrical charge.
In an IX system, water passes through a specialized resin that allows the exchange of ions. There are different types of resin designed for IX systems such as a strong base and strong anion resin for removing nitrates and perchlorate.
Ion exchange is an efficient and effective way of removing nitrates and other contaminants in the water while simultaneously reducing water hardness. The drawback though is that it is prone to resin fouling, which in turn, affects its efficacy.
Nitrates in water cause serious health problems, especially if you have a family member who belongs to a vulnerable group. If you have a nitrate problem, you need to take steps to eliminate the contamination in your drinking water. The processes we listed above are some of the proven and easy ways to do it. These systems are typically available at local providers that offer water products. Those providers can also check which system works best for your home.
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