Nutrient Pollution

What is Nutrient Pollution?
Nutrient Pollution is the cause of excess Phosphorus and Nitrogen in the air we breathe and the water around us. These elements, P and N, are naturally found in aquatic ecosystems such as ponds, lakes and oceans. Too much Nitrogen and Phosphorus enter the environment from a variety of human efforts which can lead to polluted air and water.  

Phosphorus and Nitrogen are a natural part of the ecosystem and support the growth of land and aquatic plants and habitats.

“Nitrogen is also the most abundant element in the air we breathe. Nitrogen and phosphorus support the growth of algae and aquatic plants, which provide food and habitat for fish, shellfish and smaller organisms that live in water” (EPA, Nutrient Pollution Issue, 2019).

Negative Impacts
For humans, we can get sick if we ingest water that has an oversupply of nutrients. If we eat fish that were sick due to the same reason, we will get sick as well.
Infants can become dangerously ill if exposed to nitrates in water. This can be a hazard especially in areas with polluted ground water that is used for drinking water.
Too many nutrients in ponds, oceans, lakes and waters of the like, will overstimulate algal growth and deprive fish and aquatic life of oxygen needed to sustain life and result in the death of fish in high numbers. Some algal blooms can be toxic to humans and other animal life if they come into contact with polluted water.
These effects negatively impact the environment, economy and human health.

How Do Humans and Animals Contribute to This Issue?
Humans contribute in several ways. Here are some major activities that cause nutrient pollution.
The generation of electric power is one of the greatest achievements of the human race. Along with this came the booming industrial period that has only continued on with time, and transportation vehicles, all of which burn fossil fuel to run, releasing pollutants into our air. With success, comes sacrifice. “When fossil fuels are burned, they release nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, which contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain…Most of the nitrogen oxides released in the U.S. due to human activity are from the burning of fossil fuels associated with transportation and industry” (EPA, Fossil Fuels, 2019).
Residential areas are also sources of pollution from fertilizers. When you over fertilize your yard, excess is washed away into storm drains. Animal waste is another product to be washed away easily if not disposed of in an appropriate time frame. Both contribute to additional Phosphorus and Nitrogen to waterways without treatment. Unfortunately, a lot of soaps we use for laundry, cars, dishes and the like contain phosphates which are washed down our drains. (EPA, Home, 2017)
Farming has been around for ages. It’s how we get our meats, fruits and vegetables, and much more! To supply crops with the necessary nutrients to grow (Phosphorus and Nitrogen, etc), farmers add animal manure and fertilizers and the excess is washed away with the rain, into waterways, negatively impacting the environment and water quality. (EPA, Agriculture, 2020)

Tips for Reducing Nutrient Pollution 
-Invest in constructive drainage passages to reduce the exposure of polluted runoff for your yard, water features, and farms.
-Dispose of animal waste properly and in a timely manner to prevent wash away.
-Don’t walk your pet near water to avoid contamination.
-If using fertilizer for your yard, use the proper amount to also prevent wash away and over absorption into the ground.
-Use phosphate free detergents and soaps, and don’t use an excessive amount.

-Be energy efficient and run appliances like your dishwasher and washing machines with full loads as much as possible.
-Walking is a fossil fuel free way of transportation, and a great method of exercise!
-Stack your errands for one big trip when you can to limit the expense of driving!
-Utilize natural sunlight!
-Carpool to save on gas emission!


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Sources and Further Readings:
Nutrient Pollution- The Issue. 2019.

Nutrient Pollution- The Sources and Solutions: Fossil Fuels. 2019.

Nutrient Pollution- What You Can Do: In Your Home. 2017.

Nutrient Pollution- The Sources and Solutions: Agriculture. 2020.

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