What are Nitrates?
Nitrates and nitrites can be categorized into inorganic and organic forms based on their chemical structure. There are similarities and differences between these two chemical forms that affect their pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties and their subsequent biologic effects in humans.
Nitrates are mainly produced for use as fertilizers in agriculture because of their high solubility and biodegradability. The main nitrate fertilizers are ammonium, sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium salts.
Sources & Potential Exposure
Shallow, rural domestic wells are those most likely to be contaminated with nitrates, especially in areas where nitrogen based fertilizers are in widespread use. Other nitrate sources in well water include seepage from septic sewer systems and animal wastes. Foodstuffs high in nitrates, home prepared baby foods, and sausage/meats preserved with nitrates and nitrites have caused overexposure in children. Nitrate or nitrite exposure can occur from certain medications and volatile nitrite inhalants.
EPA believes that exposure to nitrates is not expected to cause significant health problems.