Nitrogen Pollution-Cause & Effect In India(UPSC)

Nitrogen Pollution

UNEP’s Frontiers report mentioned that Nitrogen Pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats. Nitrogen is 300 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas besides its negatives effects on air quality and the ozone layer.

What is Nitrogen?

  • Nitrogen is the 5th most abundant element in the Universe.
  • It accounts for 78% of Earth’s air.
  • In the form of gas – it is colorless, odorless and mostly considered as an inert gas.
  • In the form of liquid – it is also colorless, odorless and looks like water.

Nitrogen as an essential nutrient:

  • Nitrogen is essential to life on earth because the compounds of nitrogen are present in foods, fertilizers, organic materials, explosives, poisons, etc.
  • The natural nitrogen cycle was insufficient to feed the growing population.
  • Scientists addressed this issue by producing ammonia by combining atmospheric nitrogen with hydrogen gas at high temperature and pressure. 
  • The green revolution, which was instrumental in creating food security was driven by artificial nitrogen-fixation.
  • Today, about 50% of the world’s population depends on this process for its nutrition.

Nitrogen as a pollutant:

Changing nitrogen into forms that are harmful by overloading it in the environment is causing an imbalance to the natural nitrogen cycle.

Nitrogen becomes a pollutant when it escapes into the environment and reacts with other organic compounds.

Impacts of Nitrogen Pollution:

Water Pollution

  • Nitrogen compounds running off agricultural lands dissolve in rivers, lakes or groundwater and pollutes them.
  • Creates harmful algal blooms and dead zones in oceans and algae produce toxins that are harmful to human and aquatic organisms.
  • It indirectly affects fisheries and biodiversity in coastal areas as well.gree
  • Drinking water is contaminated by excessive nitrate concentrations which has an adverse impact on human health such as reduce blood flow, cancer, and endemic goiters.

Soil Pollution

  • As the world needs to feed an ever-growing population, loss of arable land is a major global problem.
  • Excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers causes soil acidification & soil nutrient depletion
  • The lowering pH as a result of the acidification causes nutrient disorders and increased toxicity in plants. 
  • It may also affect natural soil decomposition.

Air Pollution

  • Nitrogen emissions from industry, agriculture and vehicles cause air pollution.
  • The release of nitrous oxide is essentially a greenhouse gas which is harmful to the environment.


  • Nitrogen excessive usage in agriculture has put food security under serious risk.
  • Using nitrogen to produce sufficient food should come at the cost of its polluting effects.
  • Thus the challenge is to optimally utilize the nitrogen while reducing its negative impacts.

Way forward

  • Minimizing nitrogen application by Precision farming where small quantities of nitrogen are administered routinely.
  • Zero Budget Natural Farming which involves the usage of locally available materials such as cow dung and cow urine to increase soil productivity and plant growth.
  • Tablets and coated forms of nitrogen, when applied at roots release nutrients slowly to the crops.
  • Promotion of neem-coated urea.

These methods combined with the organic fertilizers and optimal timing of application, sowing, and watering, have shown marked improvement over traditional efficiencies of nitrogen.

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