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How to Detect High Ammonia Levels in Your Water Supply
Monday, January 4, 2021

Did you know that ammonia is a key ingredient in a number of products we use every day, including plastics, textiles, cleaning products, and dyes?

At the same time, ammonia is a highly irritating gas that's typically described as having a suffocating odor. So when does ammonia cross the line from harmless to harmful? Especially when it comes to drinking water?

High ammonia levels in water can cause significant health problems, but it's also not a common household problem. Nevertheless, it does happen, and it's important to know how to test your water and how to recognize any symptoms of toxicity. Read on to learn all of that and more.

What Is Ammonia?

Ammonia is a naturally occurring compound that's found both in nature and in the human body. It's composed of hydrogen and nitrogen and its most common form is that of a colorless, fragrant gas that easily dissolves in water.

In our homes, it's used in cleaning agents and as a food additive. Ammonia is also found in fertilizers and in the byproduct of degraded organic materials, namely urine and fecal matter.

How Does Ammonia Get Into Water?

For at least 70 years, ammonia has been used as a treatment for drinking water in municipal water filtration. Municipalities use ammonia to boost the effectiveness of chlorine, which is also used to treat municipal drinking water.

But ammonia makes its way into drinking water from other places too, and it's these that are more dangerous. Forest fires, waste from both humans and animals, gas exchanges in the atmosphere, as well as the processes of nitrogen fixation can cause ammonia to form. That ammonia gets into drinking water by way of fertilizer, sewage, and runoff.

What Are High Ammonia Levels?

The average adult consumes an estimated 18 milligrams of ammonia every day. That occurs through foods and beverages.

In the levels it's found in municipal drinking water, ammonia is generally thought to be safe. For that reason, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn't regulate a limit for ammonia in municipal water systems.

However, as a general rule, municipal drinking water is typically limited to 0.25 to 32.5 milligrams of ammonia per liter.

Signs of High Ammonia Levels

If the ammonia levels in your drinking water go beyond that range, it can start to cause problems. You may notice aesthetic issues such as unpleasant taste and smell, particles in your water, or the growth of bacteria on your water filter. Other signs of high levels of ammonia include lower levels of chlorine and a low pH level.

Very high levels of ammonia can lead to poisoning. Symptoms of ammonia poisoning include:

  • Chest or throat pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Lack of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Swelling
  • Tearing and burning of eyes

Having higher levels of ammonia can also decrease the ability to disinfect the water. This can increase the risk of waterborne illness.

Monitor Ammonia Levels

High ammonia levels generally aren't an issue in drinking water. But sewage, fertilizer, and runoff can lead to higher-than-healthy levels of ammonia in the water.

If you're noticing any of the above signs of high ammonia levels, you should have your water tested immediately. And if it's a consistent problem with your water, then you should consider having your ammonia levels monitored. Check out our ammonia monitoring solutions here.

Our goal at ATI is to help provide our customers with the knowledge needed to ensure a safe and healthy environment. Toward this goal, we strive to develop and produce the highest quality instruments available. Our commitment to continuous improvement of analytical sensing systems is the key to our steadily expanding monitoring capability, and provides our users with the power of reliable information.

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