Three Things Well Users Need To Know About Nitrates

The groundwater that supplies your well can be contaminated with a variety of harmful substances, including nitrates. Here are three things well owners need to know about nitrates.

What are nitrates? 

Nitrates form when oxygen and nitrogen are combined, and they're naturally found in both soil and water. While nitrates are naturally-occurring, they're considered a contaminant in high numbers, and they can affect human health. While adults can suffer from nitrate poisoning, babies are at a greater risk, and can suffer brain damage or even death as a result of nitrate exposure. Cities and towns test their water for nitrates, but well users are responsible for monitoring their own water supply for this contaminant.

How do nitrates contaminate wells?

Nitrates can contaminate wells as a result of human activities. Groundwater can become contaminated with nitrates due to industrial waste, septic tanks, fertilizers and animal waste. Farming is the main source of nitrate contamination in groundwater, so if you live in an area with a lot of agricultural activity, you should be concerned about the quality of your water.

Look for a laboratory in your area that tests drinking water, and send a sample of your water to find out if nitrates are present.

How can nitrates be removed?

If you learn that your water contains nitrates, don't boil it to try to treat it. While boiling can get rid of contaminants like bacteria, it doesn't get rid of nitrates. In fact, boiling the water will just concentrate the nitrates, making your water worse.

Nitrates can be removed from your water through reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis is a type of water purification that can remove a variety of inorganic solids from your water. Your well water will be forced through a semipermeable membrane and additional filters, like a carbon filter, and the solids will be filtered out.

Reverse osmosis systems are usually installed under your kitchen sink, and all of the water that comes from that sink will be treated. It's possible to get a whole home reverse osmosis system that treats all of your well water at the point of entry, but these systems can be expensive. However, a whole house system may be worth the investment if you have other problems with your well water, like a high iron or salt content.

If your well water is contaminated with nitrates, ask your plumber to install a reverse osmosis system in your home.


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