Exposure and Health

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 349–359 | Cite as

Groundwater Nitrate Contamination and Associated Health Risk for the Rural Communities in an Agricultural Area of Ningxia, Northwest China

  • Jie ChenEmail author
  • Hao Wu
  • Hui Qian
Original Paper


The present study was carried out to evaluate the nitrate contamination in the shallow groundwater and to ascertain the associated health impact on the rural communities in the agricultural area of northwest China. A total of 86 groundwater samples were collected from private wells in rural areas where the groundwater is the main source of drinking water. Statistical analysis indicates that the concentrations of NO3–N in groundwater range from 0.49 to 62.20 mg/L with a mean of 12.15 ± 12.92 mg/L. 40.7 % of groundwater samples are unfit for drinking purpose because of high nitrate concentrations that have exceeded the permissible limits recommended by the WHO and Chinese drinking water standards. Elevated NO3–N levels found in the study area may be attributed to the increased fertilizer rate, intensive irrigation, shallow groundwater depth, high permeability of soil, poor sanitation facilities, and bare infrastructures. Furthermore, non-carcinogenic risk of nitrate incurred by drinking contaminated groundwater in the area was estimated by using the USEPA human health risk assessment method. Only eight and four samples with high nitrate concentrations belong to the domains of the hazard index >1 for infants and adults, respectively, indicating the higher health risk in these sampling sites. This study will be useful to develop effective strategies for improving rural drinking water supply and provide scientific evidence for decision and management of the groundwater.


Nitrate Rural area Groundwater Drinking water Health risks Northwest China 



The research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41502234 and 41172212), the Doctoral Postgraduate Technical Project of Chang’an University (2014G5290005) and the Foundation for the Excellent Doctoral Dissertation of Chang’an University (310829150002 and 310829165005). Anonymous reviewers are sincerely acknowledged for their useful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environmental Science and EngineeringChang’an UniversityXi’anChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Subsurface Hydrology and Ecological Effect in Arid region of Ministry of EducationChang’an UniversityXi’anChina

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