Nitrate

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In 2011 to 2012, the urinary (creatinine corrected) concentration of nitrate among persons aged 6 years and older was 137.4 mg/g of creatinine.

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Introduction

Nitrates and nitrites are nitrogen-oxygen chemical units that naturally occur in soil, water, and some foods. When taken into the body by drinking water and through other dietary sources, nitrate and nitrite can react with amines and amides to form N-nitroso compounds (NOC), which are known to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans. Excessive nitrate or nitrate exposure can also result in acute acquired methemoglobinemia, a blood abnormality that causes blood to lose its ability to carry oxygen to tissues (anoxia). This is especially dangerous in infants younger than 4 months of age.

Most studies assessing connections between nitrate and cancer in humans have focused on excess exposure to nitrate in areas containing nitrogen-based fertilizers. Some of the highest levels of nitrate are found in shallow wells and surface water supplies that contain high levels due to runoff from nitrogen fertilizers, as well as from leaking septic tanks and sewage, erosion of natural deposits, and confined animal feedlot operations and resulting excrement. When drinking water or eating food from areas containing nitrogen fertilizers, people could be exposed to high levels of  nitrate. In addition, workers who manufacture these fertilizers can have high exposures to dusts that contain nitrate. Oral tobacco also may contribute to nitrate intake, but is minor compared to diet or contaminated drinking water.

Studies have shown increased risks of colon, kidney, and stomach cancer among people with higher ingestion of water nitrate and higher meat intake compared with low intakes of both, a dietary pattern that results in increased NOC formation. Other studies have shown modest evidence that higher nitrate intake can increase the risk of thyroid cancer and ovarian cancer among women, and elevate the risk of pancreatic cancer among men and women.

Examination of nitrate is new to the Cancer Trends Progress Report this year.

Measure

We present exposure data on the 95th percentile of the population, representing people with the greatest exposure. The 95th percentile level means that 95% of the population has concentrations below that level. Public health officials use such reference values to determine whether groups of people are experiencing an exposure that is unusual compared with an exposure experienced by the rest of the population. [Citation]

To calculate whether the differences between 95th percentiles for two different time points is statistically significant, we used a different statistical methodology than that used by the National Center for Environmental Health, who publishes the National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals from where our data are derived. Our estimates may differ slightly from those in the original report due to differences in statistical procedures used. [Methodology]

Healthy People 2020 Target

There are no Healthy People 2020 targets regarding nitrate.

Healthy People 2020 is a set of goals set forth by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Data Source

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Trends and Most Recent EstimatesHelp with navigating the graphs and data tables

By Sex

95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (mg/g of creatinine) of nitrate among persons aged 6 years and older by sex, 2001-2012
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2011 to 2012)
Milligram/gram of creatinine (mg/g) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (mg/g of creatinine) of nitrate among persons aged 6 years and older by sex, 2001-2012 Both SexesClick to see the detailed trend graph for Both Sexes 137.4 (122.1 - 150.9)
MaleClick to see the detailed trend graph for Male 109.4 (99.2 - 120.1)
FemaleClick to see the detailed trend graph for Female 151.3 (139.9 - 169.9)

By Race/Ethnicity

95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (mg/g of creatinine) of nitrate among persons aged 6 years and older by race/ethnicity, 2001-2012
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2011 to 2012)
Milligram/gram of creatinine (mg/g) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (mg/g of creatinine) of nitrate among persons aged 6 years and older by race/ethnicity, 2001-2012 All RacesClick to see the detailed trend graph for All Races 137.4 (122.1 - 150.9)
Non-Hispanic WhiteClick to see the detailed trend graph for Non-Hispanic White 142.4 (122.9 - 153.8)
Non-Hispanic BlackClick to see the detailed trend graph for Non-Hispanic Black 87.3 (78.2 - 99.2)
HispanicClick to see the detailed trend graph for Hispanic 114.8 (90.5 - 126.9)

By Age

95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (mg/g of creatinine) of nitrate among persons aged 6 years and older by age, 2001-2012
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2011 to 2012)
Milligram/gram of creatinine (mg/g) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (mg/g of creatinine) of nitrate among persons aged 6 years and older by age, 2001-2012 Ages 6-11Click to see the detailed trend graph for Ages 6-11 143.0 (126.3 - 161.2)
Ages 12-19Click to see the detailed trend graph for Ages 12-19 86.8 (67.6 - 126.9)
Ages 20+Click to see the detailed trend graph for Ages 20+ 142.1 (121.0 - 153.9)

By Poverty Income Level

95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (mg/g of creatinine) of nitrate among persons aged 6 years and older by poverty income level, 2001-2012
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2011 to 2012)
Milligram/gram of creatinine (mg/g) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (mg/g of creatinine) of nitrate among persons aged 6 years and older by poverty income level, 2001-2012 < 200% of the federal poverty levelClick to see the detailed trend graph for < 200% of the federal poverty level 119.7 (106.4 - 129.1)
>= 200% of the federal poverty levelClick to see the detailed trend graph for >= 200% of the federal poverty level 143.8 (127.6 - 156.6)

By Education Level

95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (mg/g of creatinine) of nitrate among persons aged 20 years and older by highest level of education obtained, 2001-2012
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2011 to 2012)
Milligram/gram of creatinine (mg/g) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for urinary (creatinine corrected) concentrations (mg/g of creatinine) of nitrate among persons aged 20 years and older by highest level of education obtained, 2001-2012 Less than High SchoolClick to see the detailed trend graph for Less than High School 116.2 (95.3 - 167.2)
High SchoolClick to see the detailed trend graph for High School 136.7 (101.9 - 298.7)
Greater than High SchoolClick to see the detailed trend graph for Greater than High School 143.4 (119.8 - 165.2)

Additional Information on Nitrate

For the public

For health professionals

Scientific reports

Year Range

2001-2012

Recent Summary Trend Year Range

2007-2012

Summary Tables

Chemical Exposures

Recent Summary Trend

Non-Significant Change

Desired Direction

Falling