Growing enough food to feed an ever-increasing population poses complex demands on the ecosystem, with agricultural run-off being the most significant. Excess fertiliser application can pollute water sources, necessitating the use of a nitrate removal solution to make the water safe to drink. However, to enhance agricultural yields and meet the world's food need, low-cost synthetic fertiliser is required. Without it, the world will be unable to feed the world's growing population, which has more than doubled in the last 50 years. Since the 1950s, fertiliser has been administered in greater quantities than crops can absorb. Because nitrogen, a vital component in fertiliser, is water soluble, excess nitrates are washed into the groundwater by irrigation.
This surplus nitrogen generates an overabundance of nitrate in groundwater used for drinking, which has been linked to a range of health issues. The need of nitrate removal in keeping safe drinking water is becoming more widely recognised. More than a third of the water withdrawn for public supply in cities and towns worldwide comes from groundwater that can be contaminated with nitrates.
The Problem of Nitrate Pollution as a Global Issue
Nitrogen pollution is a generally disregarded environmental issue, with no worldwide treaty or UN body to raise awareness about it. While our global population has become more efficient in its use of natural resources, we have not followed this trend in our use of fertiliser. In early 2018, the UN Environment Programme and the Global Environment Facility convened at New York University to discuss the International Nitrogen Management System, a five-year, $60-million research project. One important finding is that by mid-century, we must have cut the amount of nitrogen we release into the environment in half, otherwise our ecosystems, including drinking water, will be jeopardised. To do so, it will be necessary to nearly double the efficiency of nitrogen use on the world's farms, among other things.
Methemoglobinemia, or "blue baby syndrome," has long been linked to high levels of nitrate contamination in drinking water, a risk that is especially dangerous for infants, pregnant women, and the elderly. Furthermore, while nitrate in groundwater has long been suspected of raising the risk of cancer, results of recent studies show that it causes an elevated risk of colon and rectal cancer at concentrations lower than those accepted as current drinking water standards. The highest levels can be found in tiny private water supplies. According to studies, the drinking water standard should be reduced to guard against not only methaemoglobinemia, the most common nitrate contamination worry, but also chronic nitrate pollution impacts like cancer.
Balancing Agriculture and Clean Drinking Water: A Bone to Survive
Water is drawn from private wells by those who are most sensitive to nitrate contamination. While nitrate pollution at public treatment plants has received a lot of attention, there haven't been any successful reductions at small, private wells that aren't as well overseen or regulated for nitrate concentration. Also, nitrate contamination is more prevalent in areas where local soil and geological conditions make it easier for nitrate to leach into the groundwater. While long-term solutions to nitrate pollution in agricultural runoff are required, short-term solutions are also required to protect towns' and citizens' current health. Our use of synthetic fertiliser may be beneficial to food production, but it will continue to be damaging to public health until a treatment strategy for the nitrate pollution that comes with it is developed.