How to Reduce Nitrate Exposure for Your Family and Pets

Share This Article:

Nitrates are compounds that occur naturally, but are also a byproduct of modern agricultural practices. They are tasteless, odorless and completely invisible to the naked eye.

Nitrates can be legally found contaminating drinking water in most states. Let’s take a look at the dangers associated with high levels of nitrate contamination in drinking water, why many popular, store-bought filters can’t fully protect you from them, and how to get proven protection from nitrates, without sacrificing convenience.

First Things First, What Are Nitrates?

Nitrates are one of the most common contaminants found in drinking water. 

Nitrates can be found in animal waste or produced when plants decompose. Nitrate pollution in drinking water is typically a result of agricultural processes. They are found in fertilizer that are sprayed on plants as it is essential for crop growth. When it rains or floods, the fertilizers may be transported into bodies of water including private wells, groundwater, and aquifers.

Long Lasting Effects Of Nitrate On Your Health

In a peer-reviewed study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzing the health and economic impacts of widespread chemical contamination from agriculture, particularly high levels of nitrate in drinking water, it was found that “nitrate pollution may be responsible for as many as 2,939 cases of very low birth weight; 1,725 cases of very preterm birth; and 41 cases of neural tube defects.”

The main concern regarding nitrate contamination in drinking water is that it poses a high risk to infants and children as they are particularly vulnerable to a condition called methemoglobinemia, which is also known as “blue baby syndrome.” This is a potentially life-threatening condition that reduces the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. In serious cases, infants with blue baby syndrome may face long-term issues including memory loss, attention deficits, and learning disabilities. Infants who were exposed to high levels of nitrate in the womb may show signs of delayed physical and cognitive development. 

Furthermore, the health risks of excess nitrates in adults can lead to nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, and gastrointestinal disorders. In pets, this can cause abdominal pain, frequent urination, diarrhea, tremors, comas, and occasional convulsions.

How Does Nitrate Get Into Water?

While water with a high nitrate concentration is most common in well water due to its close proximity to soils rich in nitrates, an analysis by the EWG shows that nitrates are an issue for water systems in both rural and urban areas. 

High levels of nitrate can be found in water due to runoff, wastewater, landfills, animal feedlots, septic systems, or urban drainage. EWG’s Tap Water Database states that 237 million people drank water from a public water system that shows detectable traces of nitrate in 2019.

Dangerous Levels Of Nitrate Are Legally Allowed In Tap Water

The legal limit for nitrate was established in 1962 to protect infants against methemoglobinemia and has not been updated in the decades that have passed. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates contamination by setting maximum contaminant levels (MCL), which is the highest level of a contaminant that is allowed in drinking water. In the case of nitrates, the EPA has set the MCL at 10 milligrams per liter (mg/l) or 10 parts per million (ppm). 

However, epidemiological research suggests that the current nitrate limit does not adequately protect public health. Studies show elevated risk of cancer and other serious health issues are linked to drinking water with nitrate levels more than 10 times lower than the legal limit.

Based on these findings, the EWG Health Guideline suggests the MCL for nitrates should be set at 0.14 ppm to protect against cancer and harm to fetal growth and development.

Who Is Affected By Nitrate Contamination?

Nitrate is a carcinogenic pollutant that could be particularly dangerous for infants. According to a new EWG analysis, nearly 60 million people living in cities and urban areas are served water with elevated levels of nitrate. 

While it is believed that those who are most susceptible to nitrate poisoning or nitrate shock are those in rural areas since the contamination is typically caused by agricultural practices, a study in the Environmental Health journal found that 1,647 public water systems had an average nitrate concentration at or above 5 mg/l (or 5 ppm), which is why it is imperative that you know where your tap water comes from

The study also showed that the highest proportion of nitrate in water systems were in the West and Midwest, particularly in California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Texas.

What Can You Do If There Are Traces Of Nitrate In Your Water?

Now that we’ve discussed the effects of nitrate contamination, let’s take a look at the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones. Depending on how and where you want clean water, different filtration systems may be needed

Not all filters are created equal; find out which water filtration method will best suit your needs! 

Carbon Filters

Carbon filters purify water through adsorption, which is the process of adhering contaminants to the filter. There are two main types of carbon filters: activated carbon filters use activated carbon to remove impurities while carbon block filters use a compacted form of activated carbon to remove contaminants and address taste and odor. 

Although they are the most common filters, carbon filters only remove as few as five out of the 320+ contaminants recognized by the EWG – and nitrates aren’t one of the contaminants they remove.

Reverse Osmosis

Another popular method of eliminating contaminants in water is through reverse osmosis (RO), which is a filtration method that forces water through a semipermeable membrane that essentially traps contaminants. Reverse osmosis systems are usually made of several filters, including a sediment filter, a carbon filter, and a semi-permeable membrane.

The semipermeable membrane has tiny pores for the water to pass through and is able to prevent any contaminants like nitrates, bacteria, lead, and chlorine from leaking into the filtered water. The contaminants are then flushed from the filter through wastewater. 

RO systems have been considered the ideal solution for water filtration because it removes everything, but it is important to keep in mind that it removes everything, including essential minerals and nutrients, and leaving “tasteless” and “dead” water as a result. 

With RO systems, users may find the need to remineralize their water, which would add an additional step to getting clean water. RO systems are not the most time efficient water filtration method and it also wastes up to 75% of the water it filters due to the wastewater needed to flush contaminants from the system. 

Ion Exchange

Ion exchange, which is the method used in water softeners, is another way to remove nitrates from water. Ion exchange filters, put simply, treat water by replacing contaminants with safer substances that have the same ionic charge but will have no negative impact on the water.

Ion exchange resins work like magnets to attract and prevent contaminants from passing through the water treatment systems. In this case, chloride ions are used to attract and hold nitrate ions in a process called anion exchange. 

It is important to keep in mind that ion exchange resins can only be used for a certain amount of time before it is ineffective and the resin becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. 


Distillation is an effective method for removing nitrates in water. In fact, distillation can also eliminate a high concentration of other impurities and contaminants that can be found in well water and city water. 

The process uses high heat and evaporation to purify water. Water is heated to form steam, leaving behind contaminants and impurities. The steam then condenses to form purified water.  

Due to the nature of distillation, it results in “dead” water that tastes “flat” or “plain” since distillation removes a number of contaminants and impurities, but also removes beneficial minerals. 

Furthermore, distillation is a lengthy process and can take up to six hours to provide a single gallon of water, so it may not be the best solution for those with families or who need clean water for whole-house use. 

Boiling Water

It is not possible to remove or neutralize nitrates by boiling water. Boiling the water will only serve to increase the amount of nitrates left in the water and make it more concentrated. 

Bottled Water

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets water standards that are based on the EPA’s standards for tap water, in addition to standards for processing and bottling drinking water. If all standards are met, the water is considered safe for consumption.

Be aware that bottled water, at times, will share the same standards and contaminant thresholds as your tap water. On top of that, bottled water is estimated to cost about a dollar before tax, while tap water costs $.002 per gallon, so it is also not a cost-effective solution in the long run.

Get Proven Protection With Clearly Filtered

All of Clearly Filtered’s water filtration systems feature Affinity Filtration Technology, which is a dual-technology approach that can remove up to 99.9% of 365+ contaminants. 

Powered by 7 unique filtration medias, our filters protect you from upwards of 300 water contaminants, including nitrates, without targeting healthy minerals. 

There’s no other filter available that can provide proven protection against so many contaminants and impurities to ensure that your water is clean, safe, and healthy, so that you can trust every drop. 

Our bestselling Water Pitcher with Affinity Filtration Technology is tested to NSF standards to protect against nitrates, as well as hundreds of other harmful contaminants in your water, so never have to worry about what’s in your water. 

If you want proven protection from nitrates and hundreds of other common dangers, upgrade to Clearly Filtered today to get easy access to clean, safe drinking water.

Find a filter that meets your needs