Reactive forms of nitrogen are used by organisms to sustain life; it is an essential ingredient in the fertilizers we use to produce food for example, but is also generated from a wide range of activities in various forms; ammonia, nitrous oxide, nitrates, that may become emissions to atmospheric, aquatic and terrestrial environments. “Reactive nitrogen can cascade through a variety of environmental systems, damaging them significantly and exacting a toll on human health. Reactive nitrogen is implicated in the high concentration of ozone in the lower atmosphere, the eutrophication of coastal ecosystems, the acidification of forests, soils, and freshwater streams and lakes, and losses of biodiversity. In the form of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, nitrogen contributes to global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion.” (source: INMS Project website)
The GEF-Toward an International Management System (INMS) Project convened its Third Plenary Session (INMS-3) in Edinburgh, Scotland over the 16 to 19 April 2018 at the Principal Hotel. The meeting was attended by science and policy experts from across the globe with responsibility for project execution, which is envisaged to contribute to strengthened 'joined-up' global management of reactive nitrogen across relevant sectors to tackle the problems of water, marine and atmospheric pollution. The discussions among the partners considered progress to date, and planning under the four components of the project; (1) Tools and assessment methods for the nitrogen cycle; (2) Global quantification of nitrogen flows, threats and benefits; (3) Regional demonstration of full nitrogen approach and (4) Awareness raising and knowledge sharing. Part of the discussions focused on the pathway to the development of a global policy arena for reactive nitrogen management and integrating this process with the fourth and fifth sessions of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA).
Linking nutrient and wastewater pollution to degradation of coral reef ecosystems in Sri Lanka.
Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pollution from land-based sources. Compounding these effects are the influences of climate change particularly in terms of ocean acidification, along with the cumulative impacts of extreme events caused by climate change, such as coral bleaching, floods and tropical storms, and the chronic impacts of poor water quality; these are all additional drivers of reef degradation. The science is suggesting that corals exposed to excess nutrients, turbidity, sedimentation, pathogens or chemical pollutants are more susceptible to thermal stress or less able to survive a coral bleaching episode.
Sri Lanka is among the countries in the tropical oceanic belt that is blessed with ecologically diverse coral reefs that provide significant benefits in terms of ecosystems services to the country’s natural capital. As with many regions of the globe, the country and the wider south-Asia region, have been witnessing degradation of reefs due to man-induced influences such as sedimentation, decreased salinity due to changes in flow patterns, and polluting agricultural and wastewater runoff, including bleaching.
UN Environment and the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP) along with local agencies including the Marine Environmental Prevention Authority, the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment and the University of Peridinya are collaborating on an initiative to reduce the risk of degradation of the Kayankerni and Paskudah coral reef ecosystems by addressing nutrient, wastewater and other land-based sources of marine pollution. These coral reefs, situated off the eastern coast of the country near Batticaloa, have been noted to exhibit resilience to recent coral bleaching events, according them priority for protection with respect to potential roles in rehabilitative measures in adjacent reef ecosystems in the future. The project will include training and capacity building activities, along with awareness-raising for stakeholders engaged in the range of local economic activities from farming to fishing to tourism. The work will be focused within the Maduru Oya watershed, a major drainage basin that delivers potentially harmful pollutants to the Kayankerni and Paskudah reefs via the Valachchenai estuary.
At the Global Symposium on Soil Pollution (GSOP18) held at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome over the 2 to 4 May 2018 gathered more than 500 scientists, policymakers, the agrochemical production industry, soil remediation companies and land users associations working on different aspects of soil pollution. Experts agree that soil pollution is a hidden reality and that it affects the food we eat and the water we drink and at ecosystems at the broader level. The symposium went a significant way in gauging the state of knowledge among the scientific community on the status of soil pollution, however, there are significant knowledge gaps in many parts of the developing world where there is still much to be known about the health impacts of soil pollution on ecosystems and communities.
The symposium underscored that the resolution ‘Managing soil pollution to achieve sustainable development’ adopted by countries at the third session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA3) was a globally recognized and significant commitment to action on addressing soil pollution. In this regard, the UN Environment convened a side event during the symposium to discuss the pathway toward implementation on the UNEA3 resolution. One of the key outputs of the resolution is a report to be tabled by the 5th Session of UNEA (in 2021) on the extent and future trends of soil pollution, considering both point-source contamination and diffuse pollution, along with the risks and impacts of soil pollution on health, the environment and food security, including land degradation and the burden of disease resulting from exposure to contaminated soil.
Collaborators associated with the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM) presented within a technical session titled ‘Case studies at global, national and regional scales’ that was moderated by Christopher Cox of UN Environment (GPNM Secretariat). Professor Nandula Raghuram of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, India presented on the Indian Nitrogen Assessment, Environmental Impacts and Sustainable Development; and Tom Bruulsema, International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) presented on Managing nutrients to mitigate soil pollution.
The symposium was co-convened by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and its Global Soil Partnership (GSP), the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS), together with the Secretariats of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, the UN Environment and the World Health Organization (WHO).
More photos from the meeting are posted on the FAO Flicker photo album and the GPNM Flicker photo album. For more information on the Global Symposium on Soil Pollution (GSOP18), please refer to the symposium website.
News and Emerging Issues
REGION: North America
Legacy nitrogen may prevent achievement of water quality goals in the Gulf of Mexico
A study in Science: 27 Apr 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6387, pp. 427-430. Authors: K. J. Van Meter, P. Van Cappellen, N. B. Basu, University of Waterloo, Canada.
The Gulf of Mexico has been experiencing hypoxic conditions since 1985. The 'dead zone' that extends from the mouth of the Mississippi River into the Gulf, is among the largest in the world, which has varied in spatial extent from a 1988 minimum of less than 100 km2 to 22,729 km2, as observed in 2017. Excess fertilizer runoff from intensive agriculture along the Mississippi River has been attributed as a major cause for the problem in the Gulf as agricultural runoff leaches into the river and its tributaries, promoting algal growth that depletes oxygen, resulting in fish kills and degradation of marine ecosystems.
In 2001, the Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force (WNTF) developed an action plan to reduce the hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico to less than 5,000 km2 by 2015 which meant a required 60% decrease in nitrogen loading from the Mississippi River. However, by 2015 the hypoxia zone was three times larger than the anticipated extent, which has meant pushing the target year to 2035. A recent report suggests that a 60% in agriculture nitrogen use would help reduce eutrophication in the Gulf; however, this may take about 30 years for the Gulf to recover.
The figure above shows that model-predicted nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) export from the Mississippi River Basin under future scenarios: (A) business as usual, and then (B) 25%, (C) 75%, and (D) 100% decreases in the agricultural nitrogen surplus. The green dashed lines represent mean nitrogen loading for the period 1980-1996, and the red dashed lines represent target nitrogen loading to achieve water quality goals for the Gulf of Mexico. For these scenarios, reductions in nitrogen loading ranging from 11 to 55% will be achieved. Note that under all scenarios, it takes approximately 30 years to reach new steady-state loading levels after the 2017 shift in management. Read the full journal article.
Contributed by Chris Thornton of the European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform
Netherlands phosphorus emission trading approved
The European Commission launched a new trading system on 'Phosphate rights for daily cattle' in Netherlands. This system aims to improve water quality by limiting phosphate production from dairy cattle manure; and also support farmers with phosphate rights for free. Dairy farmers will be annually required to show the phosphate production from their cattle manure corresponding to the phosphate production rights they hold. The ultimate goal is to be able to harness on their land all the phosphate from manure production. For more information, see the article at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-5362_en.htm
Overview of phosphorus, nitrogen and health impacts
Clean drinking is a basic need for all. However, this has not been the case in most parts of the world. Nitrate mostly from agri-chemicals seem to penetrate into groundwater; while phosphorus affect the surface water. The presence of Nitrate and Phosphorus is said to not only degrade the environment but also impact human health. For example, exposure to high levels of nitrates causes "blue baby syndrome," a condition caused by lack of oxygen in infants. Thousands of cases of this condition have been reported worldwide since its initial diagnosis in 1945, and the current EPA standard 10 ppm has been set in order to protect infants from methemoglobinemia from excessive exposure to nitrate. For more information, download the report at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-94-024-1222-2_5
Using sewage sludge in organic agriculture
Agricultural use of sewage sludge entails transfer of heavy metals and pollutants to arable land, and regular application can elevate metal concentrations in soil to levels toxic to soil microorganisms and affect biological processes. A paper was developed on 'IMPROVE-P' assessment on the fertilizer value and contamination risk of using processed sewage sludge in agriculture. The report highlights that the fertilizer value of sewage sludge is similar to manure, but further work is needed to better understand changes on phosphorus availability resulting from anaerobic digestion and flocculation processes, and on how fertilizer effectiveness could be optimized by pelletisation and precision placement close to roots. In addition, further work is needed on different contaminants present in sewage sludge, including SCCPs (short chain chlorinated paraffin's), certain phthalate plasticisers, personal care and cleaning products (in particular triclosan), pharmaceuticals and antibiotics. The Copenhagen University long-term sewage sludge trials show that antibiotic resistance does appear in soil Pseudomonads, but that this naturally disappears three weeks after application. Several comprehensive risk assessments of sewage sludge use in agriculture are summarized. The conclusions is that heavy metals, organic contaminants and pharmaceuticals are all well below effect levels, but that further research is needed into different classes of organic contaminants in sewage sludge and into impacts of antibiotics. For more information, download the report at: http://orgprints.org/22629/1/22629.pdf
REGION: Latin America and the Caribbean
Toward a nutrient management strategy for the Caribbean Sea and Brazil Shelf region
The Caribbean Regional Seas in collaboration with the Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem Strategic Action Plan Implementation Project (CLME+ Project) are to develop a Regional Strategy and Action Plan for the reduction of impacts from excess nutrient loads on marine ecosystems in the Caribbean Sea and the adjacent North Brazil Shelf Large Marine Ecosystems.
The strategy and action plan will contribute to the implementation obligations of Member States under Land-based Sources of Marine pollution (LBS) Protocol of the Cartagena Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region. The strategy will identify ‘focal areas’ for high-priority action to address nutrient pollution; that is, the most critically affected ecosystem types and those most important in terms of socioeconomic impacts for the region. It is envisaged that the actions will be aligned to the regional Action Plans within the framework of established governance mechanisms, namely the LBS Protocol, and existing National Plans of Action (NPA) for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities. It is anticipated that the strategy will be presented and adopted by the LBS Protocol Scientific Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) at its upcoming meeting later in 2018.
The initiative will build on the strategic directions and work plan elements agreed to by stakeholders within the scope of the Caribbean platform of the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM) and will also contribute to the work of the Global Wastewater Initiative (GW2I) hosted under the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association. The CLME+ Project is a 5-year project (2015-2020) implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and co-financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). For more information on the CLME+ Project see the website. For more information on the issue of nutrient pollution management in the Caribbean see the Caribbean Environment Programme website.