Ammonia has been used in water treatment systems for more than 70 years to prolong the effectiveness of disinfectant chlorine which is added to drinking water. The addition of ammonia enhances the formation of chloramines, and it reduces the formation of chlorination by-products which may be carcinogenic.
Ammonia is a natural product of the decay of organic proteins. It's widely used in industry and agriculture, and an important chemical in plant, animal, and human biology.
Ammonia gets into water supplies most frequently as runoff in agricultural areas where it is applied as fertilizer and it easily finds its way into underground aquifers from animal feedlot runoff. Ammonia itself is not often found in well water because bacteria in the soil convert it to nitrates. While large amounts can be hazardous and caustic, it is not currently regulated by drinking water standards.
Impact of Ammonia
Corrosive to some copper plumbing systems.
Toxic to fish and to dialysis patients. Toxicity varies with the pH of the water.
Irritant to the respiratory tract.
Studies have so far shown no long-term health effects.
- When combined with chlorine, it forms chloramines which are considered toxic.