are covered by the Disinfectants/Disinfection By-Products Rule. While leached metals such as lead may be found at very high levels at the tap in some instances, the relationship of their concentrations to water age is not yet adequately understood.


As discussed above, nitrification is a process carried out by ammonia-oxidizing bacteria in the environment that produces nitrite and nitrate, and thus occurs whenever the substrate (ammonium) is present in the waters. There exist abundant data on the impact of nitrate and nitrite on public health, especially on methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome, an acute response to nitrite that results in a blockage of oxygen transport—Bouchard et al., 1992). It affects primarily infants below six months of age, but it may occur in adults of certain ethnic groups (Navajos, Eskimos) and those suffering from a genetic deficiency of certain enzymes (Bitton, 1994). Pregnant women may also be at a higher risk of methemoglobinemia than the general population (Bouchard et al., 1992).

Nitrate levels may be important under certain conditions, although the relative source contribution from drinking water is expected to be a maximum of about 12 mg/L as nitrogen and typically would be much less that this. Numerous papers have focused on the impact of nitrate nitrogen (nitrate plus nitrite) in drinking waters (Sandor et al., 2001; Gulis et al., 2002; Kumar et al., 2002; De Roos et al., 2003; Coss et al., 2004; Fewtrell, 2004). However, the concentration at which nitrate nitrogen in drinking waters presents a health risk is unclear (Fewtrell, 2004). Nitrate may be reduced to nitrite in the low pH environment of the stomach, reacting with amines and amides to form N-nitroso compounds (Bouchard et al., 1992; De Roos et al., 2003). Nitrosamines and nitrosamides have been linked to different types of cancer, but the intake of nitrate from drinking water and its causal relation to the risk of cancer is still a matter of debate (Bouchard et al., 1992). A study by Gulis et al. (2002) in Slovakia related increased colorectal cancer and non-Hodgkins lymphoma to medium (10.1–20 mg/l) and high (20.1–50 mg/l) concentrations of nitrate nitrogen in drinking waters. Similarly, Sandor et al. (2001) showed a correlation between the consumption of waters containing greater than 88 mg/l nitrate nitrogen and gastric cancer.

Current nitrite and nitrate MCLs, which are regulated at the entry point to the distribution system, have been set at 1 and 10 mg/l as nitrogen, respectively, in the United States and Canada. The World Health Organization recommends 11.3 mg/l nitrate nitrogen as a guideline value. van der Leeden et al. (1990) presented data up to 1962 in which 93 percent of all U.S. water supplies contain less than 5 mg/l nitrate (it was not specified if the concentrations were nitrate nitrogen or nitrate). However, this may be changing as a result of the increased use of nitrate-containing fertilizers. It has also been shown that chloramination, which is on the increase as an alternative disinfectant, may result in elevated levels of nitrate in waters because of partial nitrification (Bryant et al., 1992), but the increment in nitrate plus nitrite nitrogen from this source would typically be less than 1 mg/L. Information obtained from the ICR database indicates that up to 65 percent of the surface water systems in the United States may use chloramination in the near future

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