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Nitrate/Nitrite Toxicity
What Are Routes of Exposure to Nitrates and Nitrites?

Course: WB 2342
CE Original Date: December 5, 2013
CE Renewal Date: December 5, 2015
CE Expiration Date: December 5, 2017
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Learning Objective

Upon completion of this section, you will be able to

  • Describe primary routes of exposure to nitrates and nitrites.


The primary routes of exposure to nitrates and nitrites may differ depending on occupational and non-occupational factors. Non-occupational factors may include

  • Age,
  • Diet,
  • Medications,
  • Hobbies (such as gardening, arc welding, etc.),
  • History of inhalational drug use,
  • Source of drinking/cooking water and how it is supplied,
  • Outdoor activities, as well as
  • The chemical form of the nitrates and nitrites.

Occupational and Paraoccupational Exposures

Occupational exposure occurs primarily through the inhalation and dermal routes. Explosive and fertilizer industry workers may be exposed to nitrate through inhalation of dusts containing nitrate salts. Dusts can also dissolve in sweat exposing skin to concentrated solutions of the salts. Farmers may experience periodic exposures depending on their activities, especially with regard to the handling of fertilizers. Exposure of family members to nitrates from dusts brought home on work clothes has been reported [Rosenman 2007].

Non-occupational Exposures

The primary route of non-occupational exposure is ingestion of water or foodstuffs that contain high levels of nitrates or nitrites. Inhalation exposures may occur from inhalant drug use and dermal exposures may occur from some topical medications. These would be special instances and not the primary routes of exposure for the general population.

Key Points

  • Primary occupational routes of exposure to nitrates and nitrites include inhalation and dermal routes.
  • The primary route of exposure to nitrates and nitrites for the general population is ingestion.
  • Inhalation and dermal exposures have been reported in non-occupational settings under certain circumstances, but are not the primary routes of exposure for the general population.

Progress Check

6. Which of the following is true regarding route(s) of exposure to nitrates and nitrites in humans?

A. The primary route of occupational exposure is ingestion.
B. The primary route of exposure for the general population is dermal.
C. Primary routes of exposure are the same for occupational and non-occupational populations.
D. None of the above.


To review relevant content, see "Occupational and Paraoccupational Exposures" and "Non-occupational Exposures" in this section.

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