02-24-2012, 10:13 AM
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This is not all that unusual, though disturbing. Ammonia, nitrite and nitrate can be present in municipal water supplies, which is why I always recommend aquarists to check their tap water for all three so they know what they are dealing with. And, this can change from time to time. One of our members, aunt kymmie, discovered a sudden and unexpected appearance of nitrite in her tap water.
The ammonia is easily handled. At a level of 0.5 it will easily be handled by live plants at water changes, but I would stay with 30-40% volume changes so as not to overload the system. At higher levels, a conditioner that detoxifies ammonia can be used, this would turn the ammonia to ammonium for 24-48 hours by which time the plants and bacteria would handle it.
The nitrate could be handled similarly, Prime is the only conditioner I know that detoxifies nitrate, there may be others. And the plants will help. With high levels though I might want something along what Termato is asking about, and I'll be interested in other members' views on that. I've never had to deal with nitrates myself.