Fertilizers contain various chemicals that promote plant and crop growth, including nitrogen and phosphorus. Left over nutrients drain into our streams and waterways, creating major issues in the ecosystem worldwide and in the U.S..
The abundance of extra nutrients in waterways and bodies of water create what is commonly known as “dead zones” or an aquatic hypoxia. Typically, algae grow in moderation causing little to no harm in the environment; however, since nitrogen and phosphorus promote algae growth, the balance of the ecosystem is disturbed. The National Wildlife Association explains,
“Normally, algae do not have enough nitrogen and phosphorus to grow in excess. With the overflow of nutrient runoff, there is nothing to keep algae growth in check. Algae can grow into giant blooms that block sunlight underwater plants need to survive. Algae blooms can take oxygen from the water that fish and invertebrates need to survive. Every summer, a big dead zone caused by algal blooms forms in the Gulf of Mexico near where the Mississippi River enters the Gulf.”
EPA’s 2010 National Lakes Assessment found that almost 20 percent of America’s lakes have high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in correlation to poor lake conditions caused by nutrient pollution.
In addition to creating monumental dead zones, a surplus of nutrients can also encourage harmful algae blooms to grow. The Environmental Protection Agency emphasizes, “Harmful algal blooms are a major environmental problem in all 50 states. Known as red tides, blue-green algae or cyanobacteria, harmful algal blooms have severe impacts on human health, aquatic ecosystems and the economy.” An increase in harmful algae blooms can result in severe illnesses in humans and wildlife, including death.
Nutrient pollution is not only harmful, but it is costly. The reality is that preventing nutrient pollution is far less expensive compared to attempting to clean up polluted lakes and waterways after the fact. Waterfront properties can lose substantial value, and treatment costs for nutrient polluted water with algae blooms can dramatically increase monthly bill payments. These are just a few of the consumer costs individuals all over the country are facing when it comes to nutrient pollution without mentioning the billions of dollars it costs to actually clean up nutrient polluted bodies of water.
Nutrient pollution negatively impacts the entire world; the U.S is clearly no exception. It takes a collective effort from other nations as well as our federal, state, and local governments to insure we lower the risks of causing irreversible harm to the environment.
To better understand how nutrient pollution contributes to poor environmental health in your community or to find out what you can do to make a difference or to inquire about nutrient pollution go to https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/what-you-can-do