What's on tap: Ammonia in drinking water


The Water Quality Association describes ammonia as "a colorless, pungent gaseous compound of hydrogen and nitrogen that is highly soluble in water. "While naturally occurring in groundwater at levels below 0.2 mg per liter, ammonia is most commonly used in fertilizer, animal feed production and fiber manufacturing. It's also used in cleaners and as a food additive.


For more than 70 years ammonia has been added to the water supply at municipal treatment systems to prolong the effectiveness of chlorine (which can evaporate out of the water).


Unlike other cleaning chemicals like chlorine and fluoride, ammonia is naturally occurring in the human body. Because we are equipped to process it safely, the amount added to drinking water should be well within our body's capacity to handle it, so we should not suffer any symptoms or side effects. However, at high levels ammonia can be harmful. Breathing in, swallowing or touching products that contain very high ammonia levels can result in poisoning. The amount added to drinking water is not great enough to cause poisoning.


The EPA has not mandated a limit for ammonia in drinking water, nor has the World Health Organization. The Water Quality Association reports, "The concentration of ammonia that exists in drinking water as been determined by the US EPA and WHO not to be a health risk."


If you're concerned about the quality of the water in your home, there are a few ways to learn about its safety:

  1. Test the water yourself. Using an at-home water test kit, you can take a water sample and then mail it to a lab for analysis. An important note: Not all test kits are the same. Make sure the kit you purchase will test for the contaminants you are concerned about.
  2. Request a water quality report. All public water systems in the U.S. are required routinely test contaminant levels. They are also required to provide customers with an annual Consumer Confidence Report that details the water quality in your community, just ask for a copy.
  3. Call the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline for more information about drinking water safety in your area: 1-800-426-4791.


If you prefer to reduce the amount of ammonia present in the water you drink, a filtration system can help, while keeping your water safe and tasting great. A whole-home filtration system will purify all the water that comes out of taps, faucets, and showerheads throughout your home. Under sink and counter top systems even economical pitchers can reduce its presence in your water.


Regular replacement of the filter and/or cartridge is critical to maintaining their effectiveness and reducing bacterial contamination. An overused or out-of-date filter can become dangerous because the filter will no longer trap contaminants, allowing them to leach back into your water. For the safety of you and your loved ones, it's important not to put off replacement too long. There are four effective ways of knowing when it's time to replace your water filter:

  1. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Their specified replacement timing will err on the side of caution so you can be assured that your water quality will always be safe.
  2. Measure usage. Install a filter measurement meter or filter monitor that connects to the incoming water line that feeds the filter system and measures the number of gallons that pass through. Then using the manufacturer's recommended usage limit, program the monitor to alert you when you've reached the allowed number of gallons. You'll know exactly when it's time to replace the filter.
  3. Read your water bill. If your home is supplied with municipal water, your water bill will tell you exactly how much water is used monthly. Compare your actual usage to the manufacturer's recommendation and plan the replacement accordingly.
  4. Monitor manually. If you have non-municipal water, the most cost effective method is to monitor your filter manually either with your palate or a water testing kit. Start with routine water tests that look for lead, microorganisms and other contaminants to verify whether your filters are still removing them. For drinking water systems, simply fill a glass with water and check the flavor yourself. You'll be able to see or taste when the filter is exhausted and no longer purifying your water because the water flavor will be unpleasant.


For answers to ammonia related questions, recommendations on the best filter for your home or general drinking water questions, contact us.