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Environ Health Perspect. 1996 May;104(5):522-8.

Nitrate contamination of drinking water: relationship with HPRT variant frequency in lymphocyte DNA and urinary excretion of N-nitrosamines.

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Department of Health Risk Analysis and Toxicology, University of Limburg, Maastricht, The Netherlands.


We studied peripheral lymphocyte HPRT variant frequency and endogenous nitrosation in human populations exposed to various nitrate levels in their drinking water. Four test populations of women volunteers were compared. Low and medium tap water nitrate exposure groups (14 and 21 subjects) were using public water supplies with nitrate levels of 0.02 and 17.5 mg/l, respectively. Medium and high well water nitrate exposure groups (6 and 9 subjects) were using private water wells with mean nitrate levels of 25 and 135 mg/l, respectively. Higher nitrate intake by drinking water consumption resulted in a dose-dependent increase in 24-hr urinary nitrate excretion and in increased salivary nitrate and nitrite levels. The mean log variant frequency of peripheral lymphocytes was significantly higher in the medium well water exposure group than in the low and medium tap water exposure groups. An inverse correlation between peripheral lymphocyte labeling index and nitrate concentration of drinking water was observed. Analysis of N-nitrosamine in the urine of 22 subjects by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry revealed the presence of N-nitrosopyrrolidine in 18 subjects. Analysis of the mutagenicity of well water samples showed that a small number of the well water samples were mutagenic in the Ames Salmonella typhimurium test after concentration over XAD-2 resin. In conclusion, consumption of drinking water, especially well water, with high nitrate levels can imply a genotoxic risk for humans as indicated by increased HPRT variant frequencies and by endogenous formation of carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds from nitrate-derived nitrite.

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