Synthetic nitrate fertilizers may contaminate groundwater for decades

Photo Credit:  Philippe Dermine Photo Credit: Philippe Dermine

A new study published in PNAS warns that synthetic fertilizer use may have long-term consequences on environmental and human health. Researchers examined the fate of synthetic nitrogen applied to test plots 30 years after application. They found that 12-15 percent of the fertilizer nitrogen was still present in the soil organic matter more than a quarter century after application. They also found that 8-12 percent of the applied fertilizer leaked toward the water tables, with the potential of contaminating drinking water, and possible leaching continuing for another fifty years. Researchers predicted that over 100 years, 15 percent of all applied synthetic nitrogen could end up in groundwater supplies. Nitrogen contamination of aquatic ecosystems is a serious emerging environmental issue. This study reinforces past studies highlighting the importance of avoiding synthetic fertilizer application through organic methods.