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Nitrogen Pollution

Nitrogen Pollution


In 2050, one-third of global river subbasins are projected to face severe scarcity of clean water due to nitrogen pollution, new research has found.


Studying over 10,000 global river sub-basins, researchers discovered that nitrogen pollution significantly increased the number of water quality scarce river basin systems. The supply of clean water for all is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030.

About Nitrogen Pollution:

It refers to the excessive presence of nitrogen compounds in the environment, primarily in water bodies like rivers and lakes. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), each year, 200 million tonnes of reactive nitrogen, 80% of the total, is lost to the environment.

Sources of Nitrogen Pollution:

  • Agricultural activity is one of the main drivers of nitrogen pollution has been the rising consumption of nitrogen-based fertilizer, which can leach into groundwater or runoff into surface water bodies.
  • Industrial processes like manufacturing processes, particularly those involved in the production of nitrogen-based chemicals and fertilisers, release nitrogen compounds into the environment.
  • Combustion of fossil fuels in industries also emits nitrogen oxides (NOx) into the atmosphere.
  • Livestock waste, primarily from manure and urine, contains nitrogen compounds such as ammonia. Improper storage and management of livestock waste can lead to nitrogen runoff, contaminating water bodies and contributing to eutrophication.
  • Wildfires and burning of cow dung cake as a fuel release nitrogen oxide (NOx) and nitrous oxide (N2O) into the atmosphere. These emissions contribute to air pollution and can have regional and global impacts on atmospheric chemistry and climate.

Consequences/Impacts of Nitrogen Pollution:

  • Excess nitrogen acts as a nutrient fertiliser for aquatic plants, leading to excessive growth of algae and other aquatic vegetation. This phenomenon is known as eutrophication and leads to algal blooming. This creates oxygen depleted zones (dead zones), where aquatic life suffocates and dies.
  • Nitrogen pollution can have direct and indirect effects on human health. High levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air can exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma and increase the risk of respiratory infections.
  • Nitrate contamination of drinking water can also pose health risks, particularly to infants, by causing methemoglobinemia or blue baby syndrome.
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O) released into the atmosphere can lead to the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, which protects the Earth from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It can increase the risk of skin cancer, cataracts, and other health problems in humans, as well as harm marine ecosystems and agricultural crops.

Government measures to reduce Nitrogen Pollution:

  • Bharat Stage (BS VI) Emission Standards have made stricter emission standards for vehicles and industries aimed to curb the release of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, which are precursors to air and water pollution.
  • Nutrient-Based Subsidy (NBS) incentivizes the use of controlled-release fertilisers, encouraging more efficient nutrient management.
  • Soil Health Cards issued to farmers, these cards provide soil nutrient status and customised fertiliser recommendations, promoting balanced nutrient application.
  • The Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) patents and sells Nano Urea, a fertilizer that humans can use to reduce the unbalanced and indiscriminate use of conventional urea while increasing crop productivity.

Read also: Imported Fertilisers: Key of Food Crisis in Africa

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