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Most nitrogenous materials in natural waters tend to be converted to nitrate, so all sources of combined nitrogen, particularly organic nitrogen and ammonia, should be considered as potential nitrate sources. Primary sources of organic nitrates include human sewage and livestock manure, especially from feedlots. The primary inorganic nitrates which may contaminate drinking water are potassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate both of which are widely used as fertilizers. According to the Toxics Release Inventory, releases to water and land totaled over 112 million pounds from 1991 through 1993.

The EPA has found nitrate in excess of 10 mg/L in over 800 small, rural groundwater systems. The water supplies most vulnerable to nitrate contamination are obviously
in agricultural areas and in well waters having a close or hydraulic relationship to septic tanks. Only 10 percent of the wells surveyed in a recent U.S. EPA groundwater study, however, had nitrate levels above 20 mg/L. High nitrate is the most frequent reason for shutting down wells in the United States.

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