More on Nitrates


Lets start with some basic facts. Every living thing is composed of only a few primary elements. Other elements are only present in minute trace amounts. The most common organic elements are oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen. Together, these atoms form 96.3% of the Human body by weight. There are a handful of other elements that are commonly found in living animals such as sulfur, phosphorus, calcium, sodium, magnesium, and potassium.

These elements compose the building blocks for our organic molecules, like proteins, sugars, fats, and genetic material. These elements also consist of ions needed for common organic processes, like nerve cells communicating with each other or moving muscles.

Bacteria eventually break all of the complex proteins and molecules in a living organism down back to its basic elements. This is part of the cycle of life. Most of the decomposition is done by aerobic (with oxygen) bacteria. The most abundant end products of aerobic bacteria are carbon dioxide, water, nitrates and nitrites, sulfates, and phosphates.  This corresponds to the top 6 elements in the body: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus respectively. The top three elements are not a problem at all as they are simply converted to carbon dioxide, oxygen gas and water.  Sulfur and phosphorus are not much of a problem either as they are present in much, much lower quantities as nitrogen.  Also, sulfates and phosphates present much less of a problem and are less toxic than nitrates (unless perhaps you use a sulfur reactor and artificially pump vast amounts of sulfates into the tank.) Only nitrogen in the form of the seemingly ever present nitrates present a real problem.

In nature, plants will use up all or most of the nitrates and available and then animals eat the plants and the cycle begins again. However, an aquarium is an artificial system and it usually does not have enough plants, if any, to use up the available nitrates and high nitrates will inevitably lead to algae problems. Most aquariums also have a higher concentration of fish than is found in nature.

Nitrates are less toxic than ammonia or nitrites, but they are still toxic to humans, animals and fish. The EPA maximum allowable nitrates in tap water is under 10 ppm.  In humans it causes a condition called blue baby syndrome which is a very serious condition that develops in infants exposed to nitrates. It causes a similar condition in livestock and fish.  The condition is caused because organisms tend to convert some of the nitrates back into nitrite which is extremely toxic.  Nitrates are also a strong diuretic and effects the smooth muscles which is why they are used as medication for people with heart problems.  They have many serious side effects in large doses.  For example check out The EPA Consumer Factsheet on Nitrates. Fish will definitely feel adverse effects and become more stressed above 40 ppm which is very easy to reach in your average fish tank.  Nitrates are also the primary contributor to unwanted algae growth.

Fortunately, with the Aquaripure, there is now a natural, cost effective way to remove the nitrates from your tank using anaerobic (without oxygen) bacteria which breaks down the nitrates into nitrogen gas.  Nitrates are much more of a problem than phosphates due to their toxicity and much greater abundance. Remember, it is the fourth most common element in the body.

The most common end products from anaerobic decomposition are mostly carbon dioxide and nitrogen, with trace amounts of methane and hydrogen sulfide. These are all gases and will be present in the effluent in small amounts. The nitrogen, methane, and hydrogen sulfide are not very soluble in water, much less so than oxygen and carbon dioxide.  Therefore when the effluent is aerated, all of the nitrogen, methane and hydrogen sulfide will be rapidly released into the atmosphere and replaced with oxygen.  None of these gases are toxic to humans or fish until they are present in very large quantities or in such large quantities as to cause asphyxiation (no oxygen).

All aquariums inherently have enough water flow to aerate the water as the fish constantly use up oxygen in the water.  If there were not adequate water flow the fish would suffocate.  When the denitrator is used, the oxygen and carbon dioxide in the tank will balance each other out and the methane, nitrogen, and hydrogen sulfide will escape into the atmosphere.  They will not build up or remain in the aquarium.  The nitrates (NO3) are simply converted to gases that are released into the atmosphere.

As you can clearly see, there really aren’t any mysterious substances lurking in your fish tank just waiting to kill your fish if you don’t change water all the time.  Nitrates are the primary reason to change the water in your aquarium. Everyone has known about the harmful effects of nitrates for years.  Now, you can do something about it.  An Aquaripure denitrator is an economical and effective way to rid your tank of nitrates.  It will be much cheaper and easier to maintain than using chemicals, doing frequent water changes, or setting up a refugium.

This is why you really can greatly reduce water changes.  Make sure you have strong water flow and that you use enough physical filtration.  Perhaps use a little phosphate remover if necessary and do an occasional partial water change to keep other trace elements in balance.  Use sodium bicarbonate and/or calcium carbonate to keep the tank buffered and maintain the pH.  These tips are also found in Tips to a Successful Aquarium.  Then all you have to do is replace the water that is lost by evaporation which should simply be treated with a little water conditioner before being added to the tank.


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