Nitrate, Nitrite, Phosphorus and Ammonia
Water Page
Water Analysis Results: Nitrate, Nitrite, Phosphorus and Ammonia informed by the
Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG, 2018)

Interpreting Results


The main purpose of this test is to reveal possible exposure to harmful chemicals. They interfere in mostly negative ways with our cellular metabolism. Long red bars in your results make it imperative to investigate reasons why these substances are in your water and where they are coming from.

The objective of this visualisation is to make your result interpretation simple, quick and immediately clear and actionable. The colour and length of the coloured bars communicate the level of detected chemical/substance/mineral/metals and how your level compares to either the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG, 2018) or (when Australian guidelines are not available), precautionary guidelines that are estimated and informed by data from research of national and global natural background levels (Evidence based references are imbedded within your results). Bars turn red when your results exceed the guidelines. The guideline cut-off level is usually indicated by the first notch on the bar (50mg/L as indicated by Nitrogen above).

We have chosen to show results online (de-identified of course) because this dynamic platform allows for a much richer and helpful experience along with the ability to receive relevant updates as they become available. We notify you via email and/or text message. You can also see and compare your results with others.

If the Lab can’t detect a particular substance in your sample, then this is indicated as below the Limit of Detection (LOD). If, on the other hand your result is so high it goes beyond our full bar length, then we indicate this with a red warning sign below the visualisation along with a quantitative multiple of your result above the guideline.


The first thing to do is to identify possible sources of increased levels of those elements with red bars. All Toxtest tests come with background information that includes chemical sources, human and animal exposures and related health effects. This information is regularly being updated and expanded upon (relevant to all tests and your results). Things change in our environment, research further highlights health consequences and as business, government and corporate policies change, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Sometimes you can’t immediately or viably change contaminants in your water. Being aware of this, we have significantly researched (and tested), start-of-the art water filtration systems that are simple, low cost, don’t require plumbing and most importantly, remove nearly all levels of contaminants that are tested here and many more.

The results of this research will be published in next few weeks and Toxtest will make these filter solutions available via our online store at a price that is affordable for all of us.

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Analysis in the Lab

Nitrate, Nitrite, Phosphate and Ammonia Water Test Analysis Results: Exposure, Health and Background Information

Nitrate & Nitrite

Spinning Atom is inspired by We have programmed the speeds and sizes of electrons and proton to follow the Fibonacci number sequence. Very relaxing.

Nitrate is made up of one nitrogen and three oxygen atoms and can be called a molecule, an ion or a salt when combined with potassium or other elements. Major uses of potassium nitrate are in fertilizers, tree stump removal, rocket propellants and fireworks. Plants utilise both potassium and nitrates to thrive.

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Nitrite is similar but has only two oxygen atoms.

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Based on health considerations, the guideline value of 50 mg-NO3/L (as nitrate) has been set to protect bottle-fed infants under 3 months of age. Up to 100 mg-NO3/L can be safely consumed by adults and children over 3 months of age.

Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG, 2018)

Nitrite: Based on health considerations, the concentration of nitrite in drinking water should not exceed 3 mg-NO2/L (as nitrite).

Nitrate and nitrite ions are also naturally occurring, with the nitrite ion being relatively unstable. Nitrate is formed from the oxidation of organic wastes such as manure, by the action of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in soils, or from lightning strikes through air in addition to their manufacture for use in explosives and inorganic fertilisers. Intensification of farming practices and sewage effluent disposal to streams have led to increasing amounts of nitrate in some waters, particularly groundwater. Food, particularly vegetables and cured meat, is the major source of nitrate intake for humans. Nitrite can be converted to ammonia.

The nitrite ion is relatively unstable and can be formed by the reduction of nitrate in poorly oxygenated waters. It is rapidly oxidised to nitrate and is seldom present in well oxygenated or chlorinated supplies. Chemical and biological processes can result in further reduction to various compounds, including ammonia, or oxidation back to nitrate. Very high nitrate concentrations (up to 1300 mg/L) have been recorded in some groundwater supplies in rural areas in Australia. Note that conventional water treatment is not effective for nitrate removal.

Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG, 2018)

Health Implications of high exposure

Methaemoglobinemia is characterized by reduced ability of the blood to carry oxygen because of reduced levels of normal haemoglobin. It is uncommon. Infants are most often affected, and may seem healthy, but show signs of blueness around the mouth, hands, and feet, hence the common name “blue baby syndrome”. These children may also have trouble breathing as well as vomiting and diarrhoea. In extreme cases, there is marked lethargy, an increase in the production of saliva, loss of consciousness and seizures. Some cases may be fatal.

In the body nitrates are converted to nitrites. The nitrites react with haemoglobin in the red blood cells to form methaemoglobin, affecting the blood's ability to carry enough oxygen to the cells of the body. Bottle-fed infants less than three months of age are particularly at risk. The haemoglobin of infants is more susceptible and the condition is made worse by gastrointestinal infection. Older people may also be at risk because of decreased gastric acid secretion.

Malnutrition and infection seem to increase the risk of methaemoglobinaemia. The general health of the infant as well as Vitamin C intake may determine whether or not the condition develops

Others at risk for developing methaemoglobinaemia include: adults with a hereditary predisposition, people with peptic ulcers or chronic gastritis, as well as dialysis patients.”

World health Organisation (WHO)

There is concern that nitrite may react with foods rich with secondary amines to form N-nitroso compounds in the stomach: many of these compounds are known to be carcinogenic in animals.

Environmental and Fish Health Implications of high Nitrate/Phosphate exposure

Humans alter the way water moves through the landscape by clearing vegetation for agriculture or urban development and by constructing drainage that moves water quickly off the landscape into the receiving water bodies. These changes to the landscape mean that there is often insufficient vegetation around rivers and estuaries to utilise excess nutrients. This problem is exacerbated when extra nutrients are added onto the land in the form of fertiliser and animal manure, or also by changing the types of plants present.

Nitrates and phosphates drive or increase eutrophication, a form of nutrient enrichment in waterways; this causes excess production in waterways of algae and Cyanobacteria (also called blue-green Algae), and high concentrations of nutrients may encourage algal growth and result in nuisance or toxic algal blooms, eventually stripping oxygen out of the water, which leads to devastating fish kill events, seen in 2019 in Australia. The drought and mis-management of the crucial waterways in Australia has further exacerbated the situation.

Eventually these blooms will collapse and die and the resulting decomposition of the algal cells will strip oxygen out of the water, sometimes causing fish kill events.

Note that Cyanobacterial blooms are of concern in drinking water primarily because of the intracellular toxins they produce, which are of three main types; hepatotoxins, which damage liver cells, neurotoxins, which damage nerve cells and cylindrospermopsin, which can damage the liver, kidney, gastrointestinal tract and blood vessels.

If indeed, your results for Nitrate/nitrites and Phosphates are high, we offer an Algae Count that estimates numbers of Total Chroococcales (cells/ml), Total Nostocales (cells/ml), Total Oscillatoriales (cells/ml) and Total Cyanophytes (cells/ml) (Blue green algae).

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Collecting water samples


Ammonia, NH3, is actually added to drinking water at local water treatment plants to react with chlorine to form chloramine disinfectants, which in called – chloramination. This is not as powerful as chlorination (adding chlorine alone) but provides a longer lasting residual in the water distribution system. Chloramination produces several species of chloramines depending on the ratio of chlorine to ammonia, the pH and the temperature and of these monochloramines are preferred because they do not cause the taste and odour problems that can arise with dichloramines and trichloramines.

Importantly, water treatment workers need to be aware of the breakpoint phenomenon, whereby chlorine applied in sufficient doses will oxidise ammonia and eliminate chloramines thus forming a free chlorine residual. Chloramines are particularly suited to providing disinfectant residuals in long distribution systems, where it is difficult to maintain a residual using chlorine alone. Note that different chloramine species, also called disinfectant by-products (DBPs), and that also include trihalomethanes (THMs), are toxic to humans.

Note also that the purity of chemicals used in Australia for the treatment of drinking water varies, depending on the manufacturing process. Ammonia is generally supplied at 99.9 % purity or better, but the product may include a very small amount of oil (hydrocarbons) and heavy metals.

Again, reiterating the importance of filtering your drinking water. We will have full details in next few weeks (October 2019)

Australian Drinking Water Guidelines – NHMRC

Monochloramine in Drinking-water - World Health Organization

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Water drops


Thanks to Waterwatch for this information on Phosphates/Phosphorus as there are no guidelines for Phosphates produced by the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG, 2018)

Background concentrations for phosphate are approximately 0.01-0.06 mg/L when measured as Phosphorus (P). The phosphorus found in both surface water and groundwater is in a form called Phosphate (chemical formula, PO4). It is naturally derived from the weathering of rocks and the decomposition of organic material, but it can also enter waterbodies in runoff or discharges — soil and fertiliser particles can carry phosphorus, and sewage is also rich in phosphorus. Phosphorus is also an important nutrient in human and animal health.

Phosphates available to plants and animals are called orthophosphates, and exist in waterbodies as dissolved and particulate (suspended) and colloidal forms. Dissolved orthophosphate is immediately available to plants and animals. Particulate orthophosphate is potentially available to plants and animals. Colloidal polyphosphates are dissolved but not immediately available to plants. Plant growth is limited by the availability of dissolved orthophosphate.

A sudden increase in orthophosphate in inland waters can stimulate great increases in the growth of algae, particularly, as well as other aquatic plants. Algal blooms potentially produce toxins and also can cause large deficits of dissolved oxygen.

Phosphate in domestic waste enters the waterway from leaking septic systems, sewage treatment facilities and stormwater drains.

And, like Nitrate, Phosphate is widely used as a fertiliser and excessive use can end up in waterways resulting in Algal blooms that in turn produce toxins harmful to humans and fish.

Sometimes Phosphate in water is measured as Phosphorous. To convert Phosphate to Phosphorus in water, simply divide by 3 (i.e. 0.06 mg phosphate/L is equivalent to only 0.02 mg Phosphorus /L).

Inversely, multiply phosphorus levels in water by 3 to obtain equivalent phosphate levels.

Even small changes to low phosphorus concentrations (0.01–0.02 mg/L) can have a significant effect on the ecosystem, but existing field equipment cannot detect phosphate at concentrations below about 0.02 mg/L while our Lab can detect down to 0.005mg/L.

From - Module 4 – Physical and Chemical Parameters Waterwatch Australia National Technical Manual by the Waterwatch Australia Steering Committee

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Keeping river clear of blue-green algae

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