Standard Article

Nitrate Health Effects

Domestic Water Supply

  1. Segun Michael Ade Adelana

Published Online: 15 APR 2005

DOI: 10.1002/047147844X.dw21

Water Encyclopedia

Water Encyclopedia

How to Cite

Adelana, S. M. A. 2005. Nitrate Health Effects. Water Encyclopedia. 1:30–42.

Author Information

  1. University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 APR 2005


Nitrate is a stable nitrogen (N) species under certain natural conditions and forms highly soluble compounds. These are peculiar features that allow nitrate ion to be transported in some groundwater systems to environments where it can be converted into other nitrogen species that either promote surface water eutrophication or are hazardous to humans, livestock, and the environment. Nitrate test results are usually expressed in milligrams per liter as either nitrogen (NO3-N, sometimes written as plain N) or as nitrate (NO3).

The occurrence of high nitrate concentrations in groundwater is widespread, particularly from agricultural usage of fertilizers and animal manure or land disposal of domestic waste and wastewaters. Much research has been conducted to determine the amounts of nitrates in drinking water wells as well as in foods. Exposure to high doses of nitrate is generally perceived to be associated with adverse health effects in humans and other species. These range from infant methemoglobinemia, cancers, the ‘hot dog headache,’ and hypertension, to other adverse effects such as birth defects (congenital malformations) and spontaneous abortions. Most reported cases of infantile methemoglobinemia have been associated with the use of water containing more than 10 mg/L NO3-N.


  • nitrate;
  • groundwater;
  • pollution;
  • health hazards;
  • risk characterization;
  • drinking water;
  • agriculture;
  • waste materials;
  • water-related diseases