Scope and Application

This method pertains to the determination of nitrite singly, or nitrite and nitrate combined in surface and saline waters, and domestic and industrial wastes using APHA Standard Method 4500-NO3 F. The applicable range of this method is 0.05 to 10.0 mg/l nitrate-nitrite nitrogen. The range may be extended with sample dilution. We can also extract nitrate from soils – see protocol here.

Summary of Method

A filtered sample is passed through a column containing granulated copper-cadmium to reduce nitrate to nitrite. The nitrite (that originally present plus reduced nitrate) is determined by diazotizing with sulfanilamide and coupling with N-(1-naphthyl)-ethylenediamine dihydrochloride to form a highly colored azo dye which is measured colorimetrically. Separate, rather than combined nitrate-nitrite, values are readily obtained by carrying out the procedure first with, and then without, the Cu-Cd reduction step.

Sample Handing and Preservation

Analysis should be made as soon as possible. If analysis can be made within 24 hours, the sample should be preserved by refrigeration at 4 degrees C. When samples must be stored for more than 24 hours, they should be preserved with sulfuric acid (2 ml conc. H2SO4 per liter) and refrigeration.

Caution: Samples for reduction column must not be preserved with mercuric chloride.


Build up of suspended matter in the reduction column will restrict sample flow. Since nitrate-nitrogen is found in a soluble state, the sample may be pre-filtered. Low results might be obtained for samples that contain high concentrations of iron, copper or other metals. EDTA is added to the samples to eliminate this interference. Samples that contain large concentrations of oil and grease will coat the surface of the cadmium. This interference is eliminated by pre-extracting the sample with an organic solvent.