Nitrogen pollution costs EU up to £280bn a year

12th April 2011

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  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Water ,
  • Agriculture ,
  • Air



High-levels of reactive nitrogen are harming the environment and costing the EU economy billions of pounds each year, according to new research.

The first European Nitrogen Assessment (ENA) has revealed that damage caused to ecosystems by nitrogen pollution costs the EU £60-£280 billion annually – more than twice the amount gained by using nitrogen fertilisers to boost crop yields say the researchers.

Published to coincide with the first day of the Nitrogen and Global Change conference on Monday (11 April 2011), the study states that the widespread use of nitrogen in agriculture and industry over the last century has resulted in a three-fold in the levels of reactive nitrogen in Europe.

Unlike inert nitrogen, which makes up 78% of the earth’s atmosphere, reactive nitrogen includes chemicals such ammonia, nitrogen oxides which form acid rain and nitrates, which damage water, air and soil quality as well as harming biodiversity.

The ENA found that ten million Europeans are potentially exposed to drinking water with high nitrate concentrations, nitrates are causing dead zones in the North, Adriatic and Baltic seas and nitrogen deposition has caused a 10% loss of plant diversity over two-thirds of Europe.

Dr Mark Sutton, the lead editor of the ENA, said: “Nearly half the world’s population depends on synthetic, nitrogen-based fertiliser for food, but measures are needed to reduce the impacts of nitrogen pollution.

“Solutions include more efficient use of fertilisers and manures, and people choosing to eat less meat. We have the know-how to reduce nitrogen pollution, but what we need now is to apply these solutions throughout Europe in an integrated way.”

Professor Bob Watson, chief scientific advisor to Defra, said: “The assessment emphasises how nitrogen links the different environmental issues that we have come to know so well: climate, biodiversity, air, water and soil pollution. It develops the vision for a more holistic approach, which is vital if we are to make progress in tackling these issues.”

The full ENA is available for free download from the Nitrogen in Europe website.


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