What are nitrates
Nitrates and nitrites occur naturally in soil. They are colourless, odourless and tasteless. They are the by-product of the decaying process of organic substances that contain nitrogen. In regions with a temperate climate, this process reaches its peak in the summer months. Part of the nitrates in the soil is absorbed by plant roots and serves as a fuel for their growth. The rest finds its way to the water table.
Intensive farming that uses synthetic fertilisers has been known to produce excess nitrates in the soil, and also in plants, reaching levels that can be dangerous to human health. Furthermore, they can contaminate food after being ingested by animals.
Nitrates and health
The intake of nigh levels of nitrates, through water or otherwise, can limit the ability of blood cells to deliver oxygen to vital organs—including the brain. Other effects on human health include dysfunction of the circulatory system, thyroid problems, hypertension and even cancer.
However, the most serious and dangerous effect nitrates can have on human health concerns babies and pregnant women.
Nitrates and babies—Blue Baby Syndrome
Babies and children who ingest high quantities of nitrates can develop an extremely dangerous condition called Methemoglobinemia or “blue-baby syndrome”. According to the US National Library of Medicine, methemoglobinemia is a blood disorder in which an abnormal amount of methemoglobin (metHB) is produced. MetHB is a molecule that does not release oxygen to tissue. The condition can lead to breathing difficulties, tiredness, dizziness, and loss of consciousness. Its more severe forms can produce cardiac dysrhythmia, seizures, retardation & developmental delay, comatose states and even death.