How to Remove Nitrates from Water?

One of the most common pollutants found in drinking water is nitrates, which can come from agricultural runoff, sewage, and other sources. Drinking water with high nitrate levels can be dangerous to your health, especially if you’re expectant or have certain medical conditions. Nitrates must be removed from water in order for them to be safe for consumption.

Figure 1 Nitrate removal.

Sources of Nitrate Contamination

Nitrate contamination of water comes from a number of sources, including:

Agricultural Run-off

Nitrate fertilizers are widely used in agriculture to promote plant growth. When too much fertilizer is applied to fields, nitrates have the potential to leak into ground and surface water reservoirs, contaminating sources of drinking water.

Livestock Waste

Animal manure and urine can also be significant sources of nitrate contamination in water, especially in areas with concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Similar to agricultural runoff, nitrates can contaminate surface and groundwater.

Septic Systems

Improperly working septic systems can release nitrate into the soil, leaching into groundwater.

Industrial Discharges

Nitrate can be discharged into water bodies as a result of industrial processes, such as manufacturing or mining.


Nitrate may be present in landfill leachate, and this nitrate may later seep into groundwater.

Atmospheric Deposition

Nitrate can be deposited in water bodies through atmospheric deposition, particularly in areas with high levels of air pollution.

Wastewater Treatment Plants

Nitrate can be present in treated wastewater, which can then be discharged into surface water sources.

How to Eradicate Nitrates from Water?

The removal of nitrates from water can be accomplished in a number of ways, including:

Ion Exchange

This process involves putting water through a resin bed where nitrate ions are switched out for chloride or sulfate ions. The resin attracts the nitrate ions, which are then swapped out for the other ions. However, this method is not very effective for removing high levels of nitrates and may also produce a significant amount of wastewater.

Figure 2 Ion exchange system.

Reverse Osmosis

In this process, the nitrates in the water are ejected using a semipermeable membrane. The water is forced through the membrane under pressure, and the nitrates are trapped on the other side of the membrane. This method is effective for removing nitrates, but it can be expensive to install and maintain.

● Biological Denitrification

This method involves using bacteria to convert nitrates into harmless nitrogen gas. The process takes place in an anaerobic environment, and the bacteria consume nitrates as a source of energy. This method is effective for removing high levels of nitrates, but it requires careful management to ensure that the bacteria are thriving and the environment remains anaerobic.

● Electrodialysis

This method involves passing an electric current through the water, which causes the nitrates to migrate toward one electrode. The nitrate ions are then removed from the water by the electrode. This method is effective for removing nitrates, but it can be expensive to install and maintain.

● Distillation

This method involves boiling the water to create steam, which is then condensed back into the water. The nitrates are left in the boiling chamber and are not present in the distilled water. However, this method can be energy-intensive and expensive.

Activated Carbon Filtration

This method uses activated carbon to adsorb the nitrates from the water. The carbon has a high surface area, which allows it to capture and retain the nitrates. This method is effective for removing low to moderate levels of nitrates, but it may require frequent replacement of carbon filters.

Testing Your Water for Nitrates Presence

Simple home testing kits or sending a sample to a facility for analysis can both be used to determine whether there are nitrates in water. The following steps will show you how to use a home testing kit to check your water for nitrates:

● Collect a sample of water to be tested in a clean container. Follow the instructions that come with the kit on how to properly collect the water sample.

● Add the testing reagents to the water sample according to the instructions that come with the kit.

● Compare the color of the water to the color chart provided in the kit. The nitrate content of the water sample will be shown on the color chart. Get a water testing kit at a hardware shop, online, or from a nearby lab.

If you want a more accurate analysis, you can send the water sample to a laboratory for testing. The laboratory will deliver a thorough report on the nitrate content of the water sample.

Figure 3 Nitrates testing.

Why it is Important to Remove Nitrates from Your Water

Nitrates are compounds that are naturally found in soil and water, but high levels of nitrates in drinking water can be detrimental to human health, particularly for young children and expectant mothers.

Here are some reasons why it is important to remove nitrates from water:

● Methemoglobinemia

High nitrate levels can result in methemoglobinemia, sometimes known as “blue baby syndrome.” This is a serious condition that affects infants, causing a reduction in the oxygen-carrying capacity of their blood, resulting in blue discoloration of their skin. If not treated quickly, this condition can lead to brain damage or death.

● Nitrosamines

Moreover, nitrates have the ability to combine with other elements in water to create dangerous substances like nitrosamines. Human cancer is known to be brought on by nitrosamines, and drinking water contaminated with nitrates over an extended period of time can raise cancer risk.

● Environmental Impact

Nitrates also have an adverse effect on the ecosystem. High levels of nitrates in water can lead to the growth of algae blooms, which can harm aquatic life and make water unfit for recreational activities.

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