Debbie Knight

Yet ANOTHER thing to consider to become environmentally friendly

In observation on February 21, 2011 at 4:00 pm

This past weekend, while attending a scientific meeting, I learned about another “N” word:  nitrogen pollution. And yet another thing to add into the “environmental concern” category.

Yes, nitrogen, the most abundant component of our atmosphere. But I’m not talking about naturally-occurring inert nitrogen (as in N2) found in our atmosphere. I’m talking about reactive nitrogens found in air pollution (such as nitrogen oxides which is produced by the fossil fuel combustion), as well as water pollution (such as nitrates and ammonias which can come from agriculture – fertilizers, livestock feed, animal waste, etc.).  Even the chemical fertilizers many homeowners (including myself) put on their lawns can contribute to the pollution stream.

My personal awareness of nitrogen pollution stems from the incredible number of recreational lakes that were shut down in Ohio this past summer because of toxic algae.  The plumes of algae were blamed on run-off from local farms and residences that contained a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus (from fertilizers or animal waste) and hot summer days.

And while I had learned about air pollution in high school, I kind of forgot about other bad things beyond carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons that come from my car’s tailpipe.

So, nitrogen pollution has become an increasingly larger problem in the past few years. And, sadly, if it were properly managed, much of it could be prevented, according to the experts.

A website ( was launched this weekend that calculates your “nitrogen footprint” and allows you to determine ways you can reduce the size of your footprint.

I was happy to find out that my nitrogen footprint was less than the average American’s footprint. But I also realized there is even more that I can do to reduce my footprint.

A simple way that regular folks such as you or I can reduce our “nitrogen footprint” is to reduce the amount of protein we eat. Most Americans eat more (way more!) than the recommended daily allowance of protein – usually in the form of animal protein (which includes meat, dairy, and even vegetable proteins). If we reduced the amount of protein we consumed, it would reduce our nitrogen footprint by 30%, according to the experts.

Another way is to limit energy use. Using public transportation or turning down the thermostat in wintertime could dramatically reduce nitrogen air pollution.

So, now, in addition to thinking about my carbon footprint, recycling, and all that goes with trying to be environmentally friendly, I will have to add one more thing to my already long list to think about: nitrogen.


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