Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Workgroup Report: Drinking-Water Nitrate and Health-Recent Findings and Research Needs

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Workgroup Report: Drinking-Water Nitrate and Health-Recent Findings and Research Needs

Article excerpt

Human alteration of the nitrogen cycle has resulted in steadily accumulating nitrate in our water resources. The U.S. maximum contaminant level and World Health Organization guidelines for nitrate in drinking water were promulgated to protect infants from developing methemoglobinemia, an acute condition. Some scientists have recently suggested that the regulatory limit for nitrate is overly conservative; however, they have not thoroughly considered chronic health outcomes. In August 2004, a symposium on drinking-water nitrate and health was held at the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology meeting to evaluate nitrate exposures and associated health effects in relation to the current regulatory limit. The contribution of drinking-water nitrate toward endogenous formation of N-nitroso compounds was evaluated with a focus toward identifying subpopulations with increased rates of nitrosation. Adverse health effects may be the result of a complex interaction of the amount of nitrate ingested, the concomitant ingestion of nitrosation cofactors and precursors, and specific medical conditions that increase nitrosation. Workshop participants concluded that more experimental studies are needed and that a particularly fruitful approach may be to conduct epidemiologic studies among susceptible subgroups with increased endogenous nitrosation. The few epidemiologic studies that have evaluated intake of nitrosation precursors and/or nitrosation inhibitors have observed elevated risks for colon cancer and neural tube defects associated with drinking-water nitrate concentrations below the regulatory limit. The role of drinking-water nitrate exposure as a risk factor for specific cancers, reproductive outcomes, and other chronic health effects must be studied more thoroughly before changes to the regulatory level for nitrate in drinking water can be considered. Key words: adverse reproductive outcomes, methemoglobinemia, neoplasms, nitrate, nitrite, N-nitroso compounds, water pollution. Environ Health Perspect 113:1607-1614 (2005). doi:10.1289/ehp.8043 available via http://dx.doi.org/[Online 23 June 2005]

**********

Humans have altered the nitrogen cycle dramatically over the last half-century, and as a result, nitrate is steadily accumulating in our water resources. Globally, human nitrogen production has increased rapidly since 1950 and currently exceeds nitrogen fixed by natural sources by about 30% (Fields 2004). This figure compares with pre-1950 human inputs, which were a small fraction of the input from natural sources (Lambert and Driscoll 2003). Fertilizer is the largest contributor to anthropogenic nitrogen worldwide; other major sources include animal and human waste, nitrogen oxides from utilities and automobiles, and leguminous crops that fix atmospheric nitrogen (Fields 2004). These organic and inorganic sources of nitrogen are transformed to nitrate by mineralization, hydrolysis, and bacterial nitrification. Under reducing conditions, nitrate can be biologically transformed to nitrogen gas through denitrification. Nitrate not taken up by plants or denitrified migrates to streams and groundwater.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrate in drinking water of 10 mg/L nitrate-nitrogen (nitrate-N) (equivalent to 45 mg/L as nitrate) and the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline (WHO 2004b) of 50 mg/L as nitrate (equivalent to 11 mg/L as nitrate-N) were promulgated to protect against methemoglobinemia, or "blue baby syndrome," to which infants are especially susceptible. The regulatory level is usually met for public water supplies, which are routinely monitored. Much less is known about private wells, which in the United States are usually required to be tested only when the well is constructed or when the property is sold. Some have suggested recently that the regulatory level for nitrate in drinking water is overly conservative (Avery 1999; L'hirondel and L'hirondel 2002). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.