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Any living thing or waste product of a living thing will create nitrate as it decomposes. Nitrate above 10 ppm nitrate-nitrogen is considered to be toxic to infants and harmful to adults. Excess nitrate is known to cause disturbances to the environment. Nitrate is a water soluble chemical, and tends to move freely through ground and surface waters. It is also very stable and nonreactive, and does not bind to soil particles: this means that it can remain chemically unchanged as nitrate ion for years. Nitrate is one of the nutrients that must be monitored carefully in any effective animal waste management plan.

Improvements in nitrate detection and measurement methods will assist farmers, agricultural consultants, and scientists to control nitrate wastes. We have developed a series of nitrate test kits that are based on the enzyme nitrate reductase, which we purify from corn seedlings. Enzymatic processes are specific, selective, and safe for the user and the environment. An enzyme will react only with its target compound, and can “find” its target in complex chemical mixtures. Enzymebased test kits offer advantages over other nitrate test methods on the market today: they are more accurate than test strips and many other test kit formulations, they do not require the use of cadmium, zinc, or any other toxic compounds, and they are less subject to interference from color, pH extremes, or other chemicals in the samples being tested. These factors make enzyme-based nitrate analysis ideal for nitrate measurement in waste lagoons, agricultural runoff, soil, plant tissues, watershed areas, and wells.

Test kits based on this method have been on the market for biomedical research since 1995, and NECi is working to gain awareness and acceptance of enzyme-based nitrate testing for water and wastewater applications. We have developed nitrate test kits for three levels of skill and accuracy: quantitative kits for laboratories, semi-quantitative Field kits, and a simplified kit for Consumer use. Funding for the research behind all kits was provided in part by the Small Business Innovation Research program of the US Department of Agriculture.

The Field Nitrate Test Kit provides accuracy of 0.5 to 1.0 ppm nitrate-nitrogen. Nitrate standards of 1, 5, and 10 ppm are run alongside the samples to assure the user that the procedure is working properly and to aid in evaluation of the results. This is a true Field kit: all reagents are supplied, and the assay can be used on-site by nonscientists: farmers and agriculture consultants, for example, will find them easy to use. A simplified version, the Consumer Kit, is easy enough for anyone to use at home at the kitchen table.

This new technology for nitrate testing may help bridge the gap between policy and regulations. Compliance is not as onerous if the actions required are relatively easy and inexpensive, and do not create new problems. It is to everyone's best interest to have clean and safe water for drinking and for recreation.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2000

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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