The term ammonia includes the non-ionized (NH3) and ionized (NH4+) species. Ammonia in the environment originates from metabolic, agricultural and industrial processes and from disinfection with chloramine. Natural levels in groundwater and surface water are usually below 0.2 mg/l. Anaerobic groundwaters may contain up to 3 mg/l.
Intensive rearing of farm animals can give rise to much higher levels in surface water. Ammonia contamination can also arise from cement mortar pipe linings. Ammonia in water is an indicator of possible bacterial, sewage and animal waste pollution.
Ammonia in drinking-water is not of immediate health relevance, and therefore no health-based guideline value is proposed. However, ammonia can compromise disinfection efficiency, result in nitrite formation in distribution systems, cause the failure of filters for the removal of manganese and cause taste and odour problems.