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University of Nebraska–Lincoln

UNL Extension in Lancaster County

Natural Resources

THE WATERWHEEL: A series dedicated to one of our most treasured resources - Water

THE WATERWHEEL - Drinking Water: Nitrate-Nitrogen

by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator

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Water WheelMany people have questions about the impact of nitrate in their drinking water. While nitrogen is essential for all living things, excessive nitrate-nitrogen in drinking water can be hazardous to health, especially for infants, because it may interfere with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.

Nitrate in water is undetectable without testing because it is colorless, odorless and tasteless. EPA requires regular testing of public water supplies and these test results are available from the local utility. If a test indicates the delivered water exceeds the allowed maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per million of nitrate-nitrogen, the public must be notified and treatment must be performed.

A test of a new private water supply to determine the nitrate concentration is needed since nitrate-nitrogen occurs naturally in groundwater. In addition, a test for nitrate is highly recommended for households with infants, pregnant women, nursing mothers or elderly people. These groups are the most at-risk to nitrate.

If a test indicates excessive nitrate-nitrogen in your private water supply, you have two choices, obtain an alternate water supply or treat to remove the contaminant. An alternate supply may be bottled water, especially for infant formula, or a new well. Water treatment options are distillation, reverse osmosis or ion exchange.

This article appeared in the NEBLINE Newsletter.


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PHOTO Credit: Rita Shelley

Contact Information

University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County
Web site: lancaster.unl.edu
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528 | 402-441-7180



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