For Immediate Release:
April 11, 2011

Barnaby Smith at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology Press Office, UK
/ +44(0)7920 295 384

New Study: Nitrogen pollution costs Europe at least $100 billion annually

A major new study that highlights the economic, health and environment costs of nitrogen pollution in Europe will be launched at a conference in Edinburgh, Scotland on Monday April 11.

The first European Nitrogen Assessment (ENA), created by 200 experts, estimates that the annual cost of damage caused by reactive nitrogen across Europe is £60 – £280 billion (about $100 – $457 billion), more than double the income gained from using nitrogen fertilizers in European agriculture.

The ENA is the first time that the multiple threats of nitrogen pollution, including contributions to climate change and biodiversity loss, have been valued in economic terms at a continental scale.

As well as identifying key threats the assessment also identifies specific regions at greatest risk of damage by nitrogen pollution.  The report provides European Union policymakers with a comprehensive scientific assessment on the consequences of failing to address the problem of nitrogen pollution. It outlines key actions that can be taken to reduce the problem to protect environmental and public health.

Key assessment findings include:

  • At least ten million people in Europe are potentially exposed to drinking water with nitrate concentrations above recommended levels.
  • Nitrates cause toxic algal blooms and dead zones in the sea, especially in the North, Adriatic and Baltic seas and along the coast of Brittany.
  • Nitrogen-based air pollution from agriculture, industry and traffic in urban areas contributes to particulate matter air pollution, which is reducing life expectancy by several months across much of central Europe.
  • In the forests, atmospheric nitrogen deposition has caused the loss of at least 10% of plant diversity over two-thirds of Europe.

The lead editor of the ENA, Dr Mark Sutton from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, “Nearly half the world’s population depends on synthetic, nitrogen-based fertilizer for food but measures are needed to reduce the impacts of nitrogen pollution. Solutions include more efficient use of fertilizers and manures, and people choosing to eat less meat. We have the know-how to reduce nitrogen pollution, but what we need now is to apply these solutions throughout Europe in an integrated way.”

The ENA is being launched at the week-long ‘Nitrogen and Global Change‘ conference in Edinburgh, with a keynote speech by Professor Bob Watson, the Chief Scientific Advisory to the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The Assessment was conducted through a network of projects supported by the European Commission and the European Science Foundation, and reports to the “Air Convention” of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. The European Nitrogen Assessment is being published by Cambridge University Press.