Fertilizers Affect the Environment: Plants require energy and nutrients to thrive, making fertilizers a crucial invention that has saved lots of civilizations and settlements from starvation. Fertilizers provide crops with more nutrients and significantly increase their yields. Therefore, farmers can produce more food with less land, reducing our impact on different environmental ecosystems.
However, fertilizers can also be seen as a two-edged sword because while they help crops produce more yield, they also cause pollution to the land and surrounding water bodies. It significantly distorts surrounding ecosystems and even leads to diseases in humans. This research article by Oxford states that a majority of the fertilizers placed on farmlands are not used by crops. Most of it runs off the farms into the surrounding environment causing pollution. So, this article will talk about the negative impact of fertilizers on our health and the environment.
Consuming too much food will cause a variety of health problems for humans. The same is true for the soil. Applying excess fertilizer to the soil will increase its acidity, decreasing fertility. So, the soil structure will be damaged, and crops yield reduced. To ensure farmers are not applying excess fertilizers, soil testing should be done every three years. Soil pH ranges from 0 – 14, where 14 is the least acidic (most basic) and 0 is the highest acidic. Different plants require distinct soil acidity to thrive. Some may do well in more basic soils while others in more acidic ones. So farmers need to have deep knowledge of the crops they are growing and their soil. As the acidity of the soil increases (going closer to 0), it becomes more infertile.
Keeping pH aside, the use of excess synthetic fertilizers kills the soil biome needed for its health and structure. Once the soil’s nutrients and structure are lacking, it can not grow healthy crops. So, farmers become even more dependent on fertilizers because the natural soil lacks the structure and nutrients.
Civilizations have always begun and bloomed when they have a constant source of water and land for agriculture. This water could come from rivers, lakes, streams, and springs. Agriculture depends significantly on water because plants and animals need water to survive. However, high amounts of synthetic fertilizers can pollute nearby water sources. These fertilizers contain high amounts of nitrates that will leak into groundwater and be washed away by rains into water bodies, leading to pollution.
We have already seen how fertilizers pollute water and the soil. It translates directly to our health because drinking polluted waters and working on the farms where the soil has been destroyed by fertilizers can cause serious health issues. The blue baby syndrome is one of the health effects caused by fertilizers, which is when infants’ skin turns pale or blue due to oxygen deficiency. Pesticides and fertilizers used on farms can also increase the risks of cancer and other chronic diseases, especially in kids and those who are immunocompromised.
Some farmers use fertilizers made up of sewage sludge, which are taken from chemical industries containing harmful toxins chemicals. A 2008 study showed that organisms such as earthworms could be poisoned by these chemicals if they lived in soils where these fertilizers have been used. Scientists are now studying to determine if plants cultivated on such soils will also contain toxic substances. Also, some studies have shown that the nutritional content of food has decreased over the past fifty to sixty years due to the use of fertilizers.
Some plant species have gone extinct due to the use of excess nitrogen-containing fertilizers. It occurs because not all crops need lots of nitrogen and may die due to excess. Excess nitrogen-containing fertilizers also cause highly flammable nonnative plants and weeds to proliferate, which can cause severe environmental hazards.
Gases like CO2, methane, nitrogen, and ammonia, which make up a huge percentage of fertilizers, are a significant portion of emitted greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are the leading cause of climate change and global warming. Also, nitrous oxide, a by-product of nitrogen, is among the top three greenhouse gases.
Even though fertilizer puts food in our stomachs now, its negative effects should not be ignored. So, we should learn to use precision agriculture, where applying fertilizers, pesticides and performing other farm processes like irrigation and tillage are done only when necessary. It will help to preserve the soil and climate for future generations.