How to Test and Remove Nitrates from Well Water?

Well water is a host to a variety of elements. Some are healthy, and some are harmful. One element which can be harmful to your health is nitrate. If you use well water for drinking, you need to make sure that it is not contaminated with nitrates. Don’t worry; we will help you remove nitrates from your well water.

In this article, we will discuss all the means you can use to remove nitrates from well water. We will also discuss the sources of nitrates contamination and the possible health effects of drinking nitrates above the safe limit.

What is Nitrate?

Nitrate is a naturally occurring compound and is formed by the combination of nitrogen with oxygen and ozone. Nitrogen is found abundantly in our earth and constitutes around 78% of air. Oxygen is 21 percent. Nitrogen, in its true form, is essential for human beings and plants, but when the nitrate concentration increases in drinking water, it can be extremely harmful. Plants and animals make nitrates; it is also released in the smoke of industries and automobiles.

Maximum Contaminate Level for Nitrate and Nitrite

The maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrate is 10.0 milligram per liter (mg/L), and for nitrite, it is 1.0 mg/L. It is evident that nitrite is far more dangerous than nitrates. However, they are not found commonly as compared to nitrates.

Sources of Nitrate Contamination

Nitrate exists naturally in groundwater and surface water. When the levels of nitrate increase above the safe limits, it becomes harmful. If the exposure is continued for long times, the risk is even more. Levels of nitrate in well water can increase due to the following reasons.

  • Improper well construction
  • Wrong well location: near an animal feedlot
  • Overuse of chemical fertilizers and insecticides on crops
  • Improper disposal of animal waste near wells
  • Septic systems built near wells
  • Industrial waste
  • Manure heaps near wells
  • Natural decomposition of plants near wells
  • Organic waste such as scrapes of fruits and vegetables
  • Nitrate contamination increase after flooding or heavy rainfall if the wells are shallow, dug, or bored.
  • Wells are submerged in rainwater or flood water for a very long time.
  • Shallow wells are at greater risk of nitrate contamination. Wells deeper than 100 feet have very fewer chances of nitrate contamination.

Health Effects of Nitrates

Nitrate above the safe limits can cause the following problems.

  • Reduce the production of hemoglobin and results in a medical condition known as Methemoglobinemia.
  • It can lead to the blue baby syndrome in infants; non-treatment can lead to severe problems like brain cancer, cyanosis, and even death in some cases.
  • If pregnant women drink water with excessive nitrate levels, they may give birth to babies with the blue baby syndrome.
  • In adults, nitrate’s impacts are far less noticed. They only become visible after years of nitrate exposure.
  • Research suggests that adults may suffer from digestive problems, increased blood pressure, and headache.

How to Confirm Nitrate’ Presence in Well Water?

If you notice any of the above sources of nitrate near your well or at your property, the chances of nitrate contamination are higher. However, EPA recommends that all well owners must get their water tested annually for microorganisms and contaminants like nitrates. General testing for all the contaminants must be conducted every 3 years. It would be best if you get the water tested from a certified testing laboratory. Please avoid home testing strips as the results are not reliable.

Treatment of Nitrate in Well Water

Let’s look at some of the treatment options available to remove nitrate from drinking water and brings its concentration within the safe limit.

Ion Exchange Process: Water Softeners

You may have heard that a water softener is only used to remove hardness from your water. To your surprise, it can also be used to remove nitrates from the water. Most people use sodium-based salts to remove calcium and magnesium from water. However, potassium salt can also remove nitrates from well water. The resulting water is high in potassium and free from nitrates.

A water softener needs to regenerate the resin and will waste some water in this process. You need to make sure that the water is properly disposed of and does not find its way again into the water well. The regeneration frequency depends upon the settings, water quality, and the quality of the salt used. Make sure you use salts certified by ANSI/NSF for drinking water. The ion exchange process is 90% effective.

Pros

  • Automatic operation
  • Low initial cost
  • Multipurpose: can also remove hardness at the same time
  • Some softeners are also capable of removing iron from well water.

Cons

  • Needs maintenance and monitoring
  • Finished water needs pH adjustment before drinking.
  • Needs salt storage
  • Salt brine disposal is difficult.
  • Wastes water

Reverse Osmosis Filtration Plants

Reverse Osmosis water filter

Every homeowner worried about the water quality knows about reverse osmosis (RO) water filtration. RO filters come with 4-7 filtration stages. The filtration media comprises a sediment filter, carbon filter, RO membrane (the heart of the system), a post-carbon filter, UV light filter, and a re-mineralization stage. The RO membrane is a very fine and small membrane with a filter rating of up to 0.0001 microns. It is so small that it captures everything and only allows water to pass through it.

It uses water to backwash the membrane and comes with a pressurized tank for water storage. You must make proper arrangements to dispose of wastewater. Some states may need a separate permit for wastewater disposal. The best thing about RO filtration systems is their capability to filter almost all the contaminants in the water. Microorganisms can be filtered using UV light or treated with shock chlorination. It is an all-in-one solution for water filtration.

Pros

  • 99% efficient
  • Produces high-quality water
  • Easy to install
  • Best for kitchen use

Cons

  • Require periodic maintenance and filter replacement
  • Wastes water
  • Slow production from domestic units
  • Needs pre-treatment

Water Distillers

removal of nitrates from drinking water by using water distiller

Another way to remove nitrate from well water is to use water distillers. Water is heated, and the vapors are cooled to get pure water. It is being used industrially at large scales. Home distillation is very rare as it needs a lot of time and energy. A home distillation pitcher will take 5-6 hours to distill one gallon of water.

Pros

  • Best for industrial use
  • Produces 100% pure water

Cons

  • Very slow process domestically
  • Runs on external power
  • Resulting water does not have healthy minerals in it.

Blending

Blending is a community level technique to reduce the nitrate concentration and bring its level below the MCL. Water wells with high nitrate concentration are combined with wells with low nitrate concentration. It is rare but is being practiced in some states of the US and other parts of the world.

Pros

  • No water wastage
  • No maintenance
  • No need to monitor the performance

Cons

  • Very high initial cost as compared to other methods
  • Nitrate fluctuations will result in the failure of the blending technique.

What not to do

Heating or boiling the well water will not remove nitrate. Water will evaporate during the process and will leave behind a high concentration of nitrate. Mechanical filters and disinfection (chlorination) will not remove nitrate from water.

Other Treatment Methods

If the nitrate concentration gets too high and you cannot remove it with a treatment option, the following can then be used to deal with the nitrate problem.

Build a New Well – Building a new well will help you tap a new water reservoir. Hopefully, it will not have the same concentration of nitrate in it.

Modification – You can also modify your well to reduce the nitrate levels in the water. Digging the well deeper to a depth of 100-200 feet significantly reduce the nitrate concentration. If you notice any leaks or cracks in the well casing, get them sorted out as soon as possible.

Connecting to City Water System – Digging a new well or modifying the existing one can be very costly. One alternate solution to get rid of the well water worries is to connect to the city water system. However, you may have to wait for many years before you get a connection. You would also have to pay monthly bills and face water problems due to infrastructural issues and natural disasters.

How to prevent Nitrate from entering in Well Water?

  • Construct the well away from contaminated sources
  • Get your well inspected annually.
  • Get the water tested annually.
  • Don’t use fertilizers or chemicals near the drinking water wells.
  • Operate and maintain septic systems correctly.
  • Get your septic tank clean after 2-3 years.
  • Never dispose of chemicals or non-biodegradable materials in drain pipes.

Final Words

Nitrates can be removed from your water effectively without any issues. To achieve this, you need to get your water tested and then buy a relevant filter. Our aim is not only to remove nitrates from water but remove every other harmful contaminant so that you and your family drink pure water and stay healthy and hydrated.

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