Basic Information about Nitrite (Measured as Nitrogen) in Drinking Water
Nitrite (Measured as Nitrogen) at a Glance
Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) = 1 milligram per Liter (mg/L) or 1 part per million (ppm)
Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) = 1 mg/L or 1 ppm
Infants betow the age of six months who drink water containing nitrate in excess of the MCL could become seriously ill, and if untreated, may die. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue baby syndrome.
Chemical Abstract Service Registry Number
Sources of Contamination
Runoff from fertilizer use; leaching from septic tanks, sewage; erosion of natural deposits
EPA regulates nitrite in drinking water to protect public health. Nitrite may cause health problems if present in public or private water supplies in amounts greater than the drinking water standard set by EPA.
- What is nitrite?
- Uses for nitrite.
- What are nitrite's health effects?
- What are EPA's drinking water regulations for nitrite?
- How does nitrite get into my drinking water?
- How will I know if nitrite is in my drinking water?
- How will nitrite be removed from my drinking water?
- How do I learn more about my drinking water?
If you are concerned about nitrate in a private well, please visit:
What are nitrite's health effects?
Infants below six months who drink water containing nitrite in excess of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue baby syndrome.
This health effects language is not intended to catalog all possible health effects for nitrite. Rather, it is intended to inform consumers of some of the possible health effects associated with nitrite in drinking water when the rule was finalized.
What are EPA's drinking water regulations for nitrite?
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires EPA to determine the level of contaminants in drinking water at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur. These non-enforceable health goals, based solely on possible health risks and exposure over a lifetime with an adequate margin of safety, are called maximum contaminant level goals (MCLG). Contaminants are any physical, chemical, biological or radiological substances or matter in water.
The MCLG for nitrite is 1 mg/L or 1 ppm. EPA has set this level of protection based on the best available science to prevent potential health problems. EPA has set an enforceable regulation for nitrite, called a maximum contaminant level (MCL), at 1 mg/L or 1 ppm. MCLs are set as close to the health goals as possible, considering cost, benefits and the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies. In this case, the MCL equals the MCLG, because analytical methods or treatment technology do not pose any limitation.
The Phase II Rule, the regulation for nitrite, became effective in 1992. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to periodically review the national primary drinking water regulation for each contaminant and revise the regulation, if appropriate. EPA reviewed nitrite as part of the Six Year Review and determined that the 1 mg/L or 1 ppm MCLG and 1 mg/L or 1 ppm MCL for nitrite are still protective of human health.
States may set more stringent drinking water MCLGs and MCLs for nitrite than EPA.
A federal law called the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) requires facilities in certain industries, which manufacture, process, or use significant amounts of toxic chemicals, to report annually on their releases of these chemicals. For more information on the uses and releases of chemicals in your state, contact the Community Right-to-Know Hotline: (800) 424-9346.
- EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Web site provides information about the types and amounts of toxic chemicals that are released each year to the air, water, and land.
How will I know if nitrite is in my drinking water?
When routine monitoring indicates that nitrite levels are above the MCL, your water supplier must take steps to reduce the amount of nitrite so that it is below that level. Water suppliers must notify their customers as soon as practical, but no later than 24 hours after the system learns of the violation. Additional actions, such as providing alternative drinking water supplies, may be required to prevent serious risks to public health.
If your water comes from a household well, check with your health department or local water systems that use ground water for information on contaminants of concern in your area.
How do I learn more about my drinking water?
EPA strongly encourages people to learn more about their drinking water, and to support local efforts to protect the supply of safe drinking water and upgrade the community water system. Your water bill or telephone book's government listings are a good starting point for local information.
Contact your water utility. EPA requires all community water systems to prepare and deliver an annual consumer confidence report (CCR) (sometimes called a water quality report) for their customers by July 1 of each year. If your water provider is not a community water system, or if you have a private water supply, request a copy from a nearby community water system.
Other EPA Web sites
- Find an answer or ask a question about drinking water contaminants on EPA's Question and Answer Web site or call EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791
- EPA Integrated Risk Information System