Nitrogen Pollution and Its impact - Seeker's Thoughts

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Nitrogen Pollution and Its impact

Excessive use of nitrogen-rich fertilizer in India and its impact

It is a sensitive issue given that India’s food self-sufficiency owes a lot to the use of urea that ensured high yields. But society conservation nature, a coalition of more than 120 scientists with varied expertise, took a call to launch an in-depth scientific probe in 2006 with setting up of a specialized group called the Indian Nitrogen Group. 

Nitrogen Pollution and Its Impact

Nitrogen pollution and its effects is a worldwide environmental problem that impacts water quality and causes toxic algal blooms, ecosystem damage, contamination of drinking water aquifers and human health issues.

Nitrous oxide, an extremely potent greenhouse gas 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, is produced when nitrogen from fossil fuel combustion enters the atmosphere and is converted to nitrous oxide by agricultural land owners.


Nitrogen pollution is pervasive and complex, ranging from airborne particles that form smog to oxygen-depleted dead zones in marine ecosystems. Human health studies have linked it with numerous conditions, including heart disease and lung issues. Furthermore, nitrogen pollution acts as a potent greenhouse gas contributing to global warming while depleting stratospheric ozone levels; scientists struggle to provide an overall picture of this environmental disaster due to the many sources and effects.

Problems related to synthetic fertilizers have arisen largely because of their widespread use, specifically designed to increase crop yields. Their nitrogen inputs disrupt natural cycles and send excess nitrogen back into fields and rivers as a pollutant. Researchers involved in this recently published Global Biogeochemical Cycles research article monitored 8 decades of nitrogen inputs (from fertilizers and organic matter such as animal manure, sewage waste and fossil fuel combustion) to crops as a measure of environmental pollution and how much of that nitrogen entered the environment. Researchers discovered that farmers have significantly increased their nitrogen applications since 2005, yet less is being taken up by plants than ever before. Furthermore, over half of what is sprayed on fields ends up washing into rivers and streams instead of staying where it belongs - potentially ending up as pollution for rivers and streams as a result.

Extra nitrogen pollution can lead to significant ecological harm, including loss of biodiversity and eutrophication of waters and soils, oceanic dead zones that expand, polluting waterways, contributing to air pollutants such as nitrous oxide and fine particulate matter, polluting drinking-water supplies and even exacerbating existing respiratory illnesses and leading to cancerous growth in humans.

Exposure to NO2 can be particularly hazardous for infants and children, who tend to breathe faster relative to their weight than adults. As a result, infants and children can breathe in more NO2 per volume of air consumed than adults, leading to higher ozone exposure levels than expected - potentially increasing health risks such as heart disease, lung issues and cognitive impairment, as well as birth defects.


fertilizers, livestock waste and other human activities that release nitrogen into the environment release it into surface water, groundwater or air and can have devastating impacts on ecosystems when released at high concentrations in surface waters, groundwater or air. When nitrogen gets into surface waters or groundwater at high levels, it can lead to eutrophication (an accumulation of nutrients in lakes, rivers and coastal areas) and harmful algal blooms which in turn result in greenhouse gas emissions, acidification of soils and waters, depletion of the ozone layer depletion fish kills contamination of drinking water aquifers as well as harm caused to people's health.

Nitrogen pollution wreaks havoc in our water in various forms, from emissions from burning fossil fuels in cars and trucks, factories, and other industrial equipment to emissions of nitrogen oxide (NO) produced from agricultural activities and urban stormwater drains; runoff from agricultural activities into storm drains, livestock feed, ammonium (NO2-), livestock feed, groundwater seepage from septic systems as well as groundwater seepage into groundwater seepage from septic systems containing ammonium (NO2-) as well as groundwater seepage from septic systems. High NO2 levels have been associated with asthma, cardiovascular disease as well as reduced lung function in children while exposure to nitrate in drinking water has been associated with cancer, reproductive issues as well as kidney damage.

Airborne nitrogen deposition causes surface water bodies to become saturated with nitrate, creating "dead zones" in lakes, estuaries and coastal areas that lack oxygen. Furthermore, this pollution leads to harmful algal blooms (HABs), which threaten human health as well as livestock health and wildlife habitats - incurring costs for treating drinking water for algal toxins while disrupting recreational opportunities and economic benefits as well as decreasing biodiversity - each one contributing to negative consequences associated with pollution of this kind.

Nitrate contamination of water increases infants' risk of methemoglobinemia ("blue baby syndrome") due to reduced oxygen in their bloodstreams. Furthermore, water with high concentrations of nitrates may be linked with other health conditions including diabetes, kidney and neurological damage as well as autoimmune conditions.

States across the nation are striving to reduce nitrogen pollution entering their waterways through controlling nutrient pollution sources and improving soil quality. Buzzards Bay is leading this effort, wherein the EPA and CT DEEP have joined forces on an initiative known as Long Island Sound Sustainable Nitrogen Management System that works at state, county and local levels to leverage, harmonize and coordinate efforts towards reducing nitrogen pollution while simultaneously developing water quality monitoring and assessment tools.


Nitrogen pollution poses serious threats to people's health and the environment worldwide. It contributes to climate change, reduces air quality, increases greenhouse gas emissions and leads to water contamination with nutrients resulting in respiratory illnesses among children, the elderly, cancer cases and economic losses due to increasing costs for food production while simultaneously decreasing agricultural productivity.

Natural ecosystems have the capacity to absorb a certain level of pollution without it negatively affecting them, up until a critical load threshold has been exceeded in each ecosystem and region. By keeping nitrogen deposition below this critical load threshold, nitrogen deposition won't damage ecosystems and continue functioning normally as intended.

Agriculture is one of the main contributors of nitrogen contamination. Nitrogen enters crop fields through fertilizers used to increase crop yields and improve soil conditions; animal manure may also contain nitrogen-rich material which leaches into groundwater sources and causes it to become oversaturated with nitrogen.

Also, nitrogen gas can be released during the combustion of fossil fuels, with NO2 and NH3 entering the atmosphere as by-products of combustion. Both compounds contribute to particulate formation that affect human health by aggravating respiratory conditions and can form ozone pollution; making these gases potentially dangerous pollutants.

Scientists are making great advances in understanding the cycle and behavior of nitrogen, but more needs to be done to translate their findings into practical practices that benefit farmers and other stakeholders. Scientists should work more closely with farmers so they understand how changes to their management practices affect both the environment and crop production.

Scientists should collect information on how the geology of a region influences its ability to absorb or drain nitrogen. Furthermore, scientists should create new fertilizers and train farmers on how best to use them; additionally they should focus on finding plant breeders who can breed high yielding grains capable of fixing nitrogen from the air themselves.


Nitrogen pollution harms the environment in numerous ways. It can stimulate an overgrowth of algae ('algal blooms') in lakes and waterways that clog intakes, use up all available dissolved oxygen, block sunlight that aquatic plants need to thrive and cause dead zones - harming underwater biodiversity as well as decreasing recreational value of lakes and rivers. Furthermore, this form of 'eutrophication' contributes to climate change by emitting greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide and nitrogen dioxyde into the atmosphere - further contributing to climate change through emissions of greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide and nitrogen dioxyde into our atmosphere - contributing greenhouse gases like these contribute significantly towards climate change resulting in dead zones as well as contributing greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide and nitrogen dioxyde that contribute significantly towards climate change!

As it's soluble, excess nitrogen quickly flows into rivers and streams where it feeds the growth of weeds and algae that clog water intakes, use up all available dissolved oxygen, reduce light available to underwater plants, clog water intakes, use up all available oxygen in lakes/streambeds/lakesbeds and decrease light availability to aquatic plants - an effect known as "eutrophication", which has adverse impacts on fishing/swimming/diving activities, kill fisheries as well as increase risks related to respiratory illnesses in humans as excessive levels of nitrate can increase risks associated with methemoglobinemia/blue baby syndrome in infants while raising risks associated with thyroid disease/ neural tube defects/ cancerous cell carcinoma in adults.

Nitrogen-rich crop fields often outcompete more delicate wild plants and fungi, and may even kill them off altogether. They also acidify soils, diminishing fertility and biodiversity in their wake. At New University's Lab for Environmental Systems Management (LEEM), researchers are trying to develop simple metrics to motivate global efforts against an impending nitrogen threat.

Scientists suggest increasing average nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) across Europe, North America and Africa by at least 75%; China and Asia to 60% and Africa to 70% or above. To do this effectively will require increasing fertilizer prices significantly so as to discourage farmers from overfertilization when yield gains are marginal. It will also mean developing high yielding crops capable of fixing nitrogen from the air themselves.

Researchers hope their work will spur action against nitrogen pollution, as it is currently receiving less attention than other environmental threats such as climate change and deforestation. But as an important contributor, nitrogen pollution must first be dealt with before other environmental challenges can be tackled effectively.

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