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Nitrogen in well water vs. copper piping


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Nitrogen in water is measured is Nitrates or Nitrites. I have never heard of this effecting copper pipes. Nitrates/Nitrites do not effect the pH of water. It can not be seen, smelled, or tasted. Most wells will have some Nitrates/Nitrites in them. The maximum level allowed by the EPA is 10 mg/l. It would be more common in wells near farms or swamps and is caused by decaying organic materials and fertilizers. The most serious health concern is 'blue baby syndrome'

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I'm not sure how much of it will apply, because this guy writes primarily about cottage water and septic systems for backwoods shelters, but this is directly from Cottage Water Systems by Max Burns and the Chapter entitled What's In Your Water and the section on Chemical Compounds and the Nutrients paragraph.


Nutrients are essential to all forms of life. They are the mineral elements and compounds used by all living things to build cells. They exist in finite quantity. They can be transformed (broken down into their basic chemicals) or relocated, but never destroyed. The problem, therefore, is not with nutrients per se but rather the manner in which we carry out that transformation and relocation.

The nutrients of primary concern to cottagers are phosphorus, because of its effect on aquatic life in our waterways, and the nitrogen, because of its potential health effect on humans. They also tend to travel together.

The Phosphorus Problem

Most fresh-water ecosystems, like lakes, are phosphorus limited in their natural state, meaning that phosphorus is in relatively short supply in that system. So aquatic plant life is also limited. But as phosphorus is introduced into the water - the process being greatly accelerated by faulty septic and municipal sewage systems, continued use of phosphate-based soaps, detergents, and other products such as fertilizers, bad agricultural practices, the destruction of marshes, and the clear-cutting of shorelines - aquatic vegetation flourishes.

In severe cases, blue-green algae blooms will appear on the surface of the lake. While most algae are honorable members of th food chain, eating and being eaten, the blue-green gang is not. Blue-green algae (the only other organisms comparable in simplicity to bacteria) grow, die, and sink to the bottom to decompose, the bacteria responsible for their decomposition consuming water dissolved oxygen in the process. This chain of events is called eutrophication, a lake being considered dead in extreme cases. And as the water loses dissolved oxygen, it enables additional phosphorus from bottom sediment to enter the water, exacerbating th problem.

By the way, the oxygen depletion of water doesn't lead to a basin of H2S and no Os. The basic water molecules consists of two hydrogen atoms riding piggyback on the one oxygen atom, hench H2O. This molecule doesn't break down into its atomic parts very easily. The oxygen available for fish and other aquatic life, such as algae, is dissolved oxygen, 02, a separate molecule from H20. Dissolved oxygen is also what's consumed when decomposition takes place in the water. The important thing to remember is excess nutrients lead to oxygen deficits which lead to a dead lake (as excess government spending leads to deficits which lead to a dead economy).

Nitrogen: Same sources, different effects

Other than affecting taste, phosphorus doesn't directly degrade the quality of water for drinking purposes. Nitrogen, however, is another matter. High levels of nitrates have been linked to methaemoglobinemeia, a disease causing oxygen deficiencies in blood. In your infants, who have less blood than adults but similar capacities for nitrates, methaemoglobinemia can lead to brain disorders. For th most part, the many variants of nitrogen get into our water systems in the same manner as phosphorus does - human and animal sewage and excess use of chemical fertilizers.

There is also an indirect link between nutrient enrichment and pathogens, the two often arriving at the lake via the same bus - sewage being ht most obvious example. Microorganisms tend to flourish when nutrient levels are high because they feed on the nutrients. In fact, we take advantage of their dietary preferences, using microorganisms to eat sewage in the septic tank.

How Nutrient Enrichment Is Measured

The degree of nutrient enrichment is determined by measuring the amount of chlorophyll in the water, chlorophyll being the green pigment in algae (and other plants), algae being the byproduct of the introduction of the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen into the water. Essentially, it's a measurement of the lake's pulse.

Lakes registering the least amount of chlorophyll are clear, cold, and usually deep - good lakes for trout. In the spring when the water temperature still hovers around freezing, dissolved oxygen could theoretically reach its maximum possible concentration of 12 mg for every liter of water.

At the opposite end of the enrichment scale, high concentrations of algae make the water turbid, green, and odorous. It's no fun to swim in, water-skiing can be downright unpleasant, and it's certainly no match for Perrier as a beverage. As a lake degenerates to this level, the balance of aquatic life changes, with those species requiring the most dissolved oxygen dying off. The first fish species to go are lake trout (assuming the lake was deep and cold enough to support them in the first place), and then the perch and pickerel, to be replaced by catfish and sunfish.

Nutrient enrichment does more than lead to premature death of the lake. Every time we either permit excess nutrients to flow into the watershed - through use of phosphate-based cleaners or by ignoring septic system problems, for example - or make it easier for nutrients to flow into the watershed (by clear-cutting shorelines, for instance), a portion of those nutrients are no longer accessible for use by land -based vegetation. This short-changes the plants, which in turn short changes animal life (like us).

Hope some of this helps. It sounds to me like the blue could be algae and/or phosphorus and he clearly states that phosphorus isn't good for pipes.



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I don't think its nitrogen. Nitrogen is an ingredient of some corrosion inhibitors added to commercial boilers.

Perhaps someone was referring to nitrogen oxides, which are a group of corrosive gases that contribute to "acid rain". It's common to see corrosion to copper roofing and flashings in urban or industrial areas with elevated NOx emissions. I have heard that some municipal water facilities treat for NOx and NO2.

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Originally posted by Konrad

I've heard second-hand info that says high nitrogen content in some well water supplies will cause corrosion of copper piping. A sign of this is blue staining in the toilet bowls.

Anyone confirm this?

There is a chemical found in surface waters that will corrode copper, but I can't remember what it is. A couple of the towns around here that used surface water had this problem until they changed the water chemistry. There was no discoloration associated with it.

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