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How do Fertilizers Pollute?

     Over-fertilizing can be a cause of this pollution as the nutrients that are not absorbed into the plant life are then washed away by stormwater runoff. If these nutrients run off into a nearby waterway or get absorbed into the groundwater supplies, it is detrimental to communities as well as the individual homeowners.

    An oversupply of nitrogen and/or phosphorus found in fertilizer, can cause algae growth in the water, which can lead to habitat loss for fish and other aquatic living things as well as lead to fish kills. This also contaminates drinking water. An extra cost is added to communities that need this water because it is contaminated and before it can consumed it must be treated.

How to Reduce the Negative Effects of Fertilizer
   There are several ways to reduce the negative effects of fertilizer. A homeowner can have their soil tested, and the results will tell them what the proper amount of fertilizer is necessary. This helps to avoid over fertilizing and reduces the chances of fertilizer runoff adding unwanted phosphorus and nitrogen to nearby water sources. Soil should be tested every two to three years.

    There are many different types of fertilizer available. Before making a purchase, one should research the different types, as they all release nitrogen in different ways. There are some types of fertilizers that are not as harmful to the environment as others.

   It is very important to avoid getting fertilizer into natural drainage areas or ditches where it will likely be caught up in stormwater runoff. After a fertilizer is applied and mixed with the soil, it is a good practice to only sprinkle about a quarter of an inch to a half an inch of water on it. Any extra fertilizer that has spread onto non-porous areas such as driveways, should be swept up and reused.

Healthier Fertilizers

   Some types of fertilizer make nitrogen immediately available to plants. They contain water-soluble, quick-release forms of nitrogen such as ammonium nitrate, calcium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, and potassium nitrate. As soon as these types of fertilizers are applied to wet soil they start to release the nitrogen. These water-soluble types of fertilizers can be identified by the initials WSN on the fertilizer labels. These are generally unhelpful fertilizers as they have short lasting effects and if a large amount is applied to the plants they can damage the plant. Since the effects are so short lived, this could lead to high application rates, which combined with high rainfall or high irrigation, can lead to a large amount of nitrogen leaching below the root zone and getting into water supplies. The following is a chart adapted from A Gardener’s Guide to Protecting Water Quality publication:


Fertilizer Source

Percent Nitrogen

Leaching Potential

Ammonium sulfate



Ammonium nitrate

33 to 34


Calcium nitrate



Potassium nitrate





       There are some types of fertilizers known as slow-release fertilizers. These stretch the nutrient availability to last love a long period of time. Fertilizer labels with the initials WIN, which stands for water-insoluble nitrogen, are these types of slow-release fertilizers.


       Biofertilzer is another alternative to conventional fertilizers. Biofertilzers improve the fertility of the soil by using biological wastes that do not contain any chemicals. There are a few types of biofertilizers, including:

  • phosphor
  • rhizo
  • azotobactor
  • trichoderma
  • composter
  • biocompost
  • tricho-card
  • vermin compost





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