Comment Period - Proposed Update of the Public Health Goals for Nitrate and Nitrite in Drinking Water

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) of the California Environmental Protection Agency is announcing the availability of the draft technical support document for the proposed update of the Public Health Goals (PHGs) for nitrate and nitrite in drinking water.  A review of the scientific literature published since the development of the nitrate and nitrite PHGs in 1997 has identified no new information to support changing the current PHG of 45 parts per million (ppm) for nitrate.  Nitrate can also be expressed in terms of its concentration as nitrogen.  When expressed as nitrogen, 45 ppm nitrate is equivalent to 10 ppm nitrogen.  The PHG of 3 ppm for nitrite, which when expressed as nitrogen is 1 ppm, remains the same.  The combined nitrate/nitrite PHG of 10 ppm (as nitrogen), which accounts for the additive toxicity of nitrate and nitrite, also remains unchanged.  It does not replace the individual values, and the maximum contribution from nitrite should not exceed 1 ppm nitrite-nitrogen.  These PHGs protect against the occurrence of infant methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder that results in decreased oxygen distribution to tissues.

The PHG technical support document provides information on the health effects of contaminants in drinking water.  The PHG is a level of drinking water contaminant at which adverse health effects are not expected to occur from a lifetime of exposure.  The California Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996[1] requires OEHHA to develop PHGs based exclusively on public health considerations.[2]  PHGs published by OEHHA are considered by the State Water Resources Control Board in setting California’s drinking water standards (Maximum Contaminant Levels, or MCLs).[3]

The draft technical support document for this update is available below.  OEHHA is soliciting comments on the draft document during a 45-day public comment period that is being extended for two weeks due to the holiday season.  Written comments must be received at or at the postal address at the end of this notice by 5:00 p.m. on February 13, 2017 to be considered. 

The Office will hold a public workshop on February 13, 2017 at the California Environmental Protection Agency Headquarters Building, 1001 I Street, Sacramento, California, 95814, Training Room 1 East/West, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., or until business is concluded.  OEHHA follows the requirements set forth in Health and Safety Code Sections 57003(a) and 116365 for conducting the workshop and receiving public input.

The workshop is provided to enable a dialogue between OEHHA scientists and the public to discuss the scientific basis of the proposed PHG updates, and to receive comments.  After the public workshop, OEHHA will submit the draft risk assessment for external scientific peer review.[4] 

Following the workshop, public comment period and external scientific peer review, OEHHA will evaluate all the comments received, revise the document as appropriate, and make it available for a 30-day public comment period.  After any subsequent revisions, the final document will be posted on the OEHHA website along with responses to the external peer review comments and to major comments received at the workshop and during the two public comment periods.

If you would like to receive further information on this announcement or have questions, please contact Hermelinda Jimenez at or at (916) 324-7572.

Written comments on the draft technical support document may be submitted by 5:00 p.m. on February 13, 2017 to or to:

Pesticide and Environmental Toxicology Branch
Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment
California Environmental Protection Agency
P.O. Box 4010, MS-12B

Sacramento, California 95812
Attention: PHG Program


[1] Codified at Health and Safety Code, section 116270 et. seq.

[2] Health and Safety Code section 116365(c)

[3] Health and Safety Code section 116365(a) and (b)

[4] Health and Safety Code section 116365(c)(3)(D), amended by Stats. 2015, Ch. 24, Sec. 18, effective June 24, 2015

Related Content