Negative Effects Of Fertilizers On The Environment – Even in today’s world with new regulations, aquatic species are still dying due to the large amounts of fertilizers leaching into our waterways. Fertilizers contain high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, which can lead to oxygen depletion, vegetation growth, and fish kills. To protect wildlife and aquatic species from pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers polluting our waters, buffer zones need to be implemented.
Fertilizers contain high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. When these chemicals run off agricultural fields into waterways, they can lead to accelerated growth of aquatic plants. Nutrients from fertilizer runoff encourage the growth of nuisance algae through the process of eutrophication. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “[e]utrophication is the natural aging of lakes or rivers that has resulted in nutrient enrichment” (USDA, 2003). Eutrophication is the number one cause of poor water quality. Due to eutrophication, there is an increase in the growth of algae and aquatic weeds, which harms aquatic life (Davies et. al, 2001).
Negative Effects Of Fertilizers On The Environment
Chemical runoff and eutrophication result in the formation of massive algal blooms. The most common and visible nuisance algae in freshwater are cyanobacteria or blue-green algae. Cyanobacteria are single-celled organisms that exist naturally in fresh or salt water (Biello, 2008). When there is a lot of nutrients available in the water, the bacteria can grow rapidly or bloom to form a visible film or spit on the surface of the water (Hoyle et al., 2009).
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Once the algae dies, it sinks to the bottom and begins to rot. This decomposition process removes oxygen from the water, creating dead zones that cannot support aquatic life (Scientific American, 2009). Surveys by the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, show that areas with heavy lawn chemical use (without a buffer zone) have lower aquatic invertebrate population densities (Burn, 2003, p 584). Low oxygen levels, also known as hypoxia, cause large fish kills. Researchers report that more than 235,000 tons of fish are lost in the Gulf of Mexico each year due to hypoxia (Biello, 2008).
Every year, the use of pesticides causes the decline of fish and other aquatic species. Not only do they cause the loss of thousands of fish, but also frogs, turtles, mussels, waterfowl, and other wildlife. “Fish and other wildlife species, including rare and endangered peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and ospreys, have been victims of pesticide poisoning” by consuming toxic plant material or aquatic species (Helfrich et al., 2009 ). In order to protect the environment and its precious wildlife, buffer zones need to be implemented.
Buffer zones are protected areas adjacent to waterways that limit the transfer of pollutants. Buffer zones protect the environment and its inhabitants by acting as buffers between waterways and land (Burn, 2003, p. 585). Adding pesticides without buffer zones can have a negative impact on an organism’s environmental habitat (Bunzel, Liess, & Kattwinkel, 2014, pp. 90-97). Chemical runoff can alter the biological, chemical, and physical properties of waterways (Boyd, 2011, p. 1-2). Buffer zones prevent these pollutants by trapping sediments and chemicals before they enter the water. With buffer zones, mortality rates of aquatic species can be limited to 10% or less (Burn, 2003, p. 585).
Journal, Bunzel, Liess, and Kattwinkel (2014) argue that buffer strips can prevent pesticide drift and improve the health of aquatic ecosystems. The authors found that buffer strips at least 5 meters wide reduce the amount of pesticides in the water (Bunzel, Liess, & Kattwinkel, 2014, pp. 90-97).
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Buffer zones provide food, shelter, water, and breeding sites for many animals such as birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Many animals create habitat near rivers, ponds, and waterways for easy access to water and environmental protection (PennState, 2014). Chemical pollution not only kills these habitats, but the wildlife that depends on them for survival.
“Massachusetts requires all pesticide applicators to observe designated buffers around water supplies, surface water, wetlands, residences, and sensitive crops” (Feitshans, 1999). There are several laws regarding aerial crop spraying near waterways under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and the River Protection Act. A law states that “no liquid pesticide may be sprayed within 150 feet of [coastal water] or within 400 feet of a public surface water supply” (McCarthy & Frisman, 2000). Granular pesticides may not be applied within 50 feet of the shoreline or within 250 feet of a public surface water supply (McCarthy & Frisman, 2000).
According to Boyd (2001), J.S. Larson of the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board suggests that in some cases, Massachusetts wetland protection regulations fail to protect wetland wildlife (Boyd, 2001, p. 2). In recent studies of major rivers and streams, researchers at the US Fish and Wildlife Service detected turfgrass chemicals in 90% of US waterways (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013). Studies like these and the continued presence of algal blooms indicate that buffer zones are not being implemented well enough to stop this problem.
In order to prevent water pollution, control policies must be effective. Political effectiveness depends on legal enforcement and human awareness and compliance (Kirkpatrick et. al 2014, p. 898). Massachusetts law encourages viewers to report violators. The EPA receives help from the public to ensure compliance (EPA, 2014). However, the safety of our aquatic ecosystems cannot be relied upon solely by spectators. Only if a violation is reported or suspected does the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions conduct an inspection (Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1997, p. 36). Often, problems with violators are resolved “through a phone call…or a letter…to achieve compliance or remediation” (Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1997, p. 37).
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To protect aquatic life in New England, EPA needs to review its enforcement program on buffer zones. To make buffer zone laws more effective, we suggest the Environmental Protection Agency stop depending on bystanders to detect violations and take matters into their own hands. The EPA requires unannounced inspections of all large agricultural lands near waterways. Currently, EPA conducts inspections only when there is warrant to believe a violation has occurred. Each farm that may affect a wetland should be inspected annually for signs of chemical misuse or water pollution. If a violation is reported or suspected, the EPA should conduct a full investigation of the property. Phone calls and letters can save time, but personal visits ensure the safety of our wetlands.
Because of the increased need to produce a high yield of crops, commercial farms are a major source of wetland pollution (Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1997, p. 21). Fertilizers are required to replenish the soil for healthy crops and maximum yields. One dollar spent on fertilizer can bring $10 worth of corn (Haller et al., n.d.). To maximize production, some farmers and landowners plant in the corners of the field to increase their crop area. For this reason, many farmers would argue against strict enforcement of buffer zones. It could be argued that 150 feet of land (the buffer zone) could be used to plant more crops to feed our growing society.
Although this is an excellent point, neglecting buffer zones can greatly impact our wetlands and aquatic ecosystems. Without a buffer zone to trap sediment and lawn fertilizer, many of New England’s major streams and rivers will be heavily contaminated with harmful chemicals. For a healthy environment, commercial farmers must be aware of their buffer zones and comply with EPA regulations, the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act, and the River Protection Act.
The best way to alleviate water pollution and algal blooms is prevention. This can only be done through fertilizer user compliance and legal enforcement. The Environmental Protection Agency and other groups and agencies of the state and federal governments must patrol areas approaching the buffer zones to ensure compliance. With good communication and enforcement we can protect the environment, its water sources and its wildlife. The Massachusetts government’s Wetlands Protection Act establishes a way to alleviate the problem by limiting the use of chemicals near waterways. However, these chemicals are still leaching, killing thousands of fish and other aquatic species. We must continue to protect our waters and its inhabitants by respecting the laws in place. The time is now to make changes to the way we implement buffer zones in Massachusetts, before it’s too late.
Next Generation Fertilizers
Kirkpatrick, B., Kohler, K., Byrne, M., Fleming, L. E., Scheller, K., Reich, A., . . . Hoagland, P. Nitrogen pollution is a pressing issue for ecosystem health and the climate. Much of the nitrogen is applied on farms as synthetic fertilizers or washed manure into rivers — causing algal blooms and killing marine life — and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Their impact is so great that in 2018, a group of nitrogen experts determined that the world must halve the amount of nitrogen dumped into the environment to avoid the worst impacts on wildlife.
Many argue that synthetic fertilizers are at the heart of the problem. Because synthetic fertilizers are the biggest contributors to nitrogen pollution, the thinking goes, we should radically limit their use, if not eliminate them entirely from the food system. The solution, in
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