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Tap water testing for 40+ppm Nitrate and 0.5ppm ammonia!

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Our tap water tests at 40ppm Nitrate and 0.5ppm Ammonia straight out of the faucet!

We use the API (drops) test kit. (not expired)

We had the city of Philadelphia (where we live) test our water and they said that it tested fine: 2.5ppm Nitrate and 0.1ppm Ammonia.

We wrote to API to ask if they ever have any issues with false positives. They replied no and recommended that we shake the bottles for 3 minutes and see if that changes the result. We did this and the results are the same.

We just lost our lovely Oranda, Howie (presumably from the tap water conditions) and would like to get another Oranda.

But I don't know who to believe the City or API.....

I'm inclined to believe the city as they have more advanced testing equipment, but if that is the case, how will I know if my water is safe for a new fish without a reliable way to test the water?

I just moved from Seattle to Philadelphia recently and this was not a problem there.

I bought a new API test kit in case the kit had gone bad, but both my old and my new API test kits come out with the same reading.


Has this happened to anyone else?

Should I believe API or the City of Philadelphia?

Is there some kind of additive that is in some tap water that messes up water testing kits?

Is there another reliable brand that I can use that may not have the same problems?

Is my water safe for another fish?


Test Results for the Following:

  • * Ammonia Level: 0.5 ppm
  • * Nitrite Level: 0 ppm
  • * Nitrate level: 40-80 ppm
  • * Ph Level, Tank (If possible, KH, GH and chloramines): 7.5
  • * Ph Level, Tap (If possible, KH, GH and chloramines): 7.5
    Other Required Info:
  • * Brand of test-kit used and whether strips or drops?: API Drops
  • * Water temperature?: 72F
  • * Tank size (how many gals.) and how long has it been running?: 20 Gallons 4 months
  • * What is the name and "size of the filter"(s)?: Aqueon 20 gallon and Aqueon 10 Gallon filter running at the same time
  • * How often do you change the water and how much?: Usually weekly, but more often when necessary

  • * How many days ago was the last water change and how much did you change?: Today - 100%
  • * How many fish in the tank and their size?: 0 (just lost our only one)
  • * What kind of water additives or conditioners? Neutral Regulator (also have Prime available if needed, but not currently using)
  • * What do you feed your fish and how often?: when he was alive I fead 2 Hikari Lion Head pellets a day (pre soaked for one minute in tank water)
  • * Any new fish added to the tank?: No
  • * Any medications added to the tank?: Salt - 4 TBS
  • * List entire medication/treatment history for fish and tank. Please include salt, Prazi, PP, etc and the approximate time and duration of treatment. : Salt 4 TBS
  • * Any unusual findings on the fish such as "grains of salt," bloody streaks, frayed fins or fungus? : Dead
  • * Any unusual behavior like staying at the bottom, not eating, etc.?: Death

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Hi there! Welcome to the forum :D

I am going to move this to the water quality section of the forum for you.

Many members here also deal with nitrates in their tap. Hopefully someone with stop by to weigh in soon :) I would honestly be apt to believe your API test kit over the city, particularly since you have tested with a new kit and gotten the same results. If your tank isn't already planted you might think about adding some fast growing plants to assist with nitrate reduction and perhaps using a pothos as well. Here's some links on using pothos for nitrates: http://www.kokosgoldfish.invisionzone.com/forum/index.php?/page/index.html/_/goldfish-keeping-tips/nitrate-control-r166


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Hello & welcome! :)

Your results and the city's results are actually a little bit closer to each other than thought. The EPA & water utilities present nitrate values in what is called "nitrate nitrogen" numbers, and that number is approximately ten times less than what the "whole nitrate" result that we have in our kits. So, your city utility's results translate to about 11 ppm nitrates, which is below the EPA's mandated limit of 10ppm nitrate nitrogen, or 45 ppm nitrates.

Here's a bit more explanation of nitrate nitrogen and nitrate etc :)


I would also request that the city take a little bit of your tap water and test for the amount of nitrates in it.

Tithra's suggestions and links up above are great, and I would definitely look into that. While this level of nitrate is undesirable, it also should not kill your fish. As for the ammonia, that amount should be able to be processed by a competent and adapted biological filter within hours without issue.

Do you have a tank going, or will you need to re-cycle a tank before getting fish?

Edited by dnalex
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Thanks to Tithra and Dnalex for your expedient useful responses! :)

Tithra - Thanks for the Potho info! I plan to pick one up today! I have some plants in my tank as it is (Moneywort, Water Westeria, and.......something else) They seem to be handling a bit of the Nitrate load because it reduced the nitrate from the tap which is still 40-80ppm to about 30ppm in 48 hours.

Dnalex - Thanks for the info on the difference between the API Nitrate reading and the cities. That makes a lot more sense!

I am not sure how my biological filter is doing at this point. Before I got my fish I spent a month or two doing a fishless cycle and it definitely appeared to go through the cycle. When I added my fish there were no crazy ammonia bumps or anything. Since my fish's passing, I have been continuing to put food in the water to keep my bio filter alive. Also my moneywort seems to be dying so it is probably adding to the ammonia levels. I just tested the water today after my 100% water change 48 hours ago and my Ammonia is still at 1ppm, Nitrite is at 0ppm and Nitrate is at about 30ppm. I am unsure if I still have a bio filter because my Ammonia level has stayed the same as it was from the tap, but I also have the additional load of a some uneaten food and dying moneywort. I plan not not feed the tank for a day or so and see if the ammonia level comes down.

Tithra - I'm a fan of yours! A few weeks ago I spent an evening watching all of your YouTube videos and made a few changes based on your suggestions:

- I added my other 10 gallon Aqueon filter to my 20 gallon Aqueon filter to create the appropriate amount of GPM.

- I cleaned my filters and a sponges in fish tank water in a separate bucket

- I added Fluval Biomax pellets to my filters in addition to the porous sponges I had in there

- Since my fish died, I have also removed my gravel thinking that a bare bottom tank will be easier to keep clean once I get another fish

Thanks so much again, both of you, for your help. I have been banging my head agains this problem for a few weeks now, its good to see a potential solution out there. :happydance

I'll let you know how it goes.

I :heart:goldfish:,


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Aw, thank you Sandra, it's always nice to hear that someone found my videos helpful :heart

I hope you can get your nitrate situation figured out. I always feel blessed that I don't have to worry about any of that in my tap ;)

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Bio-filter is alive and well.

Bought a Pothos Plant and a new Oranda!

Thanks again for the help! :thumbs:

You were asking about cleaning the pothos in my other topic, but I can't find the original topic to reply in (the article doesn't let me reply).

I carefully broke up the root system of the pothos into several large junks, and then squirted them down on full blast with the garden hose, while working my hands through it to loosen the soil up more and more. It never went 100% clean/without soil, but that didn't bother the fish. If you worry about trace soil, you could set the plant in a container with water for a couple days, so its roots are submerged and the remaining dirt will soak and eventually come off easier.

But again, that wasn't even necessary. :)

EDIT: Also be aware that after adding the plant to the tank, a lot of the roots will initially start to die off, especially the finer ones. But these will be replaced with roots that have adapted to be constantly submerged in water. In fact, I now even have leaves that are starting to sprout and grow under water, without dieing off (yet).

Edited by Oerba Yun Fang
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