Nitrates / Nitrites

Nitrate is a natural constituent of plants and is found in vegetables at varying levels depending on the amount of fertilizer applied.  
Health Effects?
  • In moderate amounts, nitrates are harmless (colorless, odorless and tasteless)
  • In higher amounts, nitrates can cause methemoglobinemia ("blue baby syndrome") in infants  
    • In infants 0-4 months taking baby formula mixed with nitrate-contaminated water, the exposure reacts with red blood cells, depleting oxygen and potentially suffocating the baby
    • An obvious symptom is bluish skin color, especially around the eyes and mouth
  • If detected at this early stage, methemoglobinemia is rarely fatal, readily diagnosed, and rapidly reversed with clinical treatment. 
    • If your baby has a brownish-blue skin tone, take him/her to a hospital immediately
    • A medication called "methylene blue" will quickly return the baby's blood to normal
  • After the age of six months, methemoglobinemia is not a threat since the nitrate converting bacteria are no longer present in the baby’s stomach
  • Pregnant women can pass methemoglobin on to developing fetuses, and low birth weights have been attributed to high nitrates in water.   However, nursing mothers do not pass nitrites to infants via their milk
How Did It Get There?
  • Naturally occurring and found in many rainfall or groundwater aquifers
  • Inorganic fertilizers and animal manures
  • Use of on-site septic systems and lawn fertilizer