Document Type



Nitrate/nitrite impacts human health through a number of mechanisms via involvement in potentially detrimental biochemical processes. In the acute sense, nitrite interacts with the iron components of the hemoglobin molecule, the functional, biochemical unit of the red blood cell responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. These iron components are essential for the normal bonding of the hemoglobin molecule with oxygen and when chemically altered, result in a form of hemoglobin known as methemoglobin. When somewhere between 3-15% of the hemoglobin in the blood is reduced to methemoglobin an individual is said to have methemoglobinemia due to the low oxygen content of the blood and the high percent of circulating, methemoglobin. Infants less than six months of age that are bottle-fed are, for a number of reasons, more susceptible to this condition than adults. This is why the World Health Organization has established an upward limit ofl0 milligrams per liter of nitrate-nitrogen in potable waters. In the chronic sense, nitrate/nitrite exposure has been linked, through animal and epidemiological study, to gastric and esophageal cancers via the interaction of nitrite and amines in the body forming carcinogenic nitrosamines. Further, nitrate/ nitrite has also been implicated, though not conclusively, via animal and epidemiological studies, to a number of chronic health conditions and developmental deficits in children.

Publication Date


Journal Title

International Journal of Global Health





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©2001 International Journal of Global Health



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Public Health Commons



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