Fertilizer Use Linked to Water Pollution

A recent scientific study by the U.S. Geological Survey has detailed how fertilizer used on farms travels to streams and waterways via groundwater. The study, which conclusively links fertilizer use to water pollution, will be invaluable in helping to manage ecological protection programs.

Commercial fertilizers contain high amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen, chemicals that can cause serious health and ecological damage. When high amounts collect in drinking water, both chemicals can pose a threat to human health.

More importantly, nitrogen and phosphorus can seriously damage marine ecosystems. Excess phosphorus and nitrogen compounds can stimulate algae growth. Unchecked surface algae can block sunlight in bodies of water, creating marine dead zones devoid of life. In addition, both chemicals alone can kill fish and other sensitive wildlife species.

According to the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, Marcia McNutt, the new study will help scientists develop ways to limit fertilizer pollution and chemical leaching. “While the widespread use of fertilizer has increased crop yields, excessive application is not only wasteful, but it can also be harmful to water quality, fish, and human health,” McNutt said. “New USGS science demonstrates how and when excess phosphorous is moving underground from fields to streams, and what underground conditions can mitigate nutrient transport.”

The study is particularly useful because it demonstrates that, contrary to previously held scientific opinion, phosphorus can dissolve in soil water and travel in groundwater. In addition, the study demonstrated that the presence of iron particles and other elements in aquifers could help limit the absorption of pollutants.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer