Saturday, June 13, 2009

POLLUTION: Do Fertilizers Really Cause Pollution?

A garden lawnImage via Wikipedia

Is Pollution Really Caused by Fertilizers? by Beverly Saltonstall

Both the area of land covered with grass in the U.S., and the area of England are both the same size. Both cover approximately 50 million acres.

The reason both of these statistics are interesting to note, is that the custom of having manicured lawns in America comes from England. The wealthy English noblemen who lived on large estates were the only ones who could afford to have manicured lawns. Gardeners were employed to keep the grounds picture-perfect in the days before lawnmowers.

As more and more wealthy Americans visited England, they fell in love with those beautiful lawns and brought the custom back with them to the U. S. The quickly found out that this was easier said than done. The native grass that grew in the States, did not produce the results that they expected.

Back in the early 1900's, the U.S. Department of Agriculture helped the U.S. Golf Association in their quest for a suitable grass for the many golf courses that were sprouting up all over the country. After several years of research, they came up with grasses that would grow well on these golf courses. As more and more golf courses were established, the golf club required pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers to keep these non-native grasses looking beautiful. It became a matter of economics as the most beautiful golf courses drew the most customers.

The proliferation of lawns, the widespread availability of chemicals, and the gas-powered lawnmower were the catalysts that made the lawn so popular here in the United States. Lawns are a big business generating millions of dollars of revenue from the sale of the grass itself to the care and maintenance of that lawn.

Fertilizers and Lawns

The problem with having these beautiful lawns is that the fertilizers being used to keep them green is wrecking havoc on our waterways and causing a severe water pollution problem. While Nitrogen and Phosphorus, the two main ingredients of fertilizers help us grow those beautiful lawns, they also

· Result in aquatic plants and algae overproducing

· Cause algae blooms

· Cause clogged waterways

· Use up the oxygen in the water when they decompose

· Block available sunlight causing death to native aquatic plants

· Cause the death of fish due to the lack of oxygen

Nitrogen and Phosphorus in Fertilizers

Fertilizers normally contain three major ingredients, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in the form of potash. The numbers on the bags indicate how much of each of these elements are found in the product and always indicate the amount of N-P-K, always in that order.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are naturally occurring elements and are essential to plant growth. Just like almost anything, too much of a good thing in the form of fertilizers, is destroying our waterways. Scientists are still studying the role that fertilizers, which contain these essential elements, are contributing to the decrease in the quality of our oceans, lakes and streams.

Their research is leading to the conclusion that Phosphorus is causing the algal blooms and other problems in fresh water, while nitrogen can be the cause of pollution in our coastal waters.

The movement is on to ban or limit the use of fertilizers in many areas. Westchester County, one of the most affluent counties in the United States, recently banned the use of Phosphorus on lawns and put restrictions on the use of fertilizers in an effort to protect their nearby waters. More and more municipalities are putting fertilizer bans or restrictions in place.


America's love affair with beautiful lawns has to change. No longer can we dump millions of pounds of fertilizers on our lawns and also expect to have clean water. The big problem with the bans that have been put in place is that it is difficult to enforce them on residential properties. Much education is needed to change the mindset of those people who insist on these green lawns. They need to be shown the direct correlation between the fertilizers used on their lawns and the effect it has on our waterways.

Just as gas-guzzling automobiles are losing their status due to environmental awareness, lush green lawns will also lose their status. As the world moves towards a greener planet, lawns as we know them will be a thing of the past.

Beverly Saltonstall is an avid writer about issues related to the environment, especially about pollution. Her website offers timely news, podcasts and articles on all facets of the problems causing pollution. For a free report, "What YOU Can Do To Help Reduce Pollution", visit

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