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Environment

Nitrogen Pollution Curbs Urged

by Britt E. Erickson
August 29, 2011 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 89, ISSUE 35

EPA should work with other federal agencies to manage nitrogen pollution from agriculture and fossil-fuel burning in a more comprehensive way, a report from EPA’s Science Advisory Board concludes. The report finds that in the U.S., human activities—primarily the use of synthetic fertilizers, legume cultivation, and fossil-fuel combustion—currently release about five times more reactive nitrogen into the environment than do natural sources. The report also finds that reactive nitrogen in the environment degrades air and water quality, leading to human health problems and losses of billions of dollars per year. The advisory board recommends that EPA increase nitrogen-monitoring efforts and develop an integrated approach for controlling nitrogen pollution to ensure that efforts to decrease nitrogen in one area of the environment do not result in unintended consequences in other areas. Some advocacy groups are calling the report’s recommendations a good start but say EPA must act now. “We need this improved coordination and monitoring, but what is critical is to start implementing the solutions we already know will reduce nitrogen pollution,” stresses Noel P. Gurwick, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group.

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