Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution (aka “nutrient pollution”) may sound benign, but it is anything but harmless. This pollution which comes from excess nitrogen and phosphorus, threatens the environmental and economic viability of our nation’s waters.

  • This pollution threatens waters used for drinking, fishing, swimming, and other recreational purposes. It can hurt the tourism industry, decimate people’s home and property values, and cause illness.
  • Over the last 50 years, the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus entering into our waters has escalated dramatically.
  • Nutrient pollution has the potential to become one of America’s costliest and most challenging environmental problems.
  • We know that drinking water and environmental water quality is degrading from excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorus.
  • Nutrient pollution is expected to grow with:
    • U.S. population growth,
    • Nitrogen and phosphorus from urban stormwater runoff,
      municipal wastewater discharges,
      air deposition, and
    • Livestock production and row crop runoff.
  • Cleaning up these already degraded waters will require significant resources. And if we take no action to clean up these waters, we simply pass along these restoration costs to our children and grandchildren.
  • Ground water reserves, which serve as a source of drinking water to some 105 million people nationwide, can become contaminated by nitrogen and phosphorus through soil leaching.

Sources of Nutrient Pollution

  • Agriculture: Animal manure, excess fertilizer applied to crops and fields, and soil erosion make agriculture one of the largest sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the country.
  • Stormwater: When precipitation falls on our cities and towns, it runs across hard surfaces - like rooftops, sidewalks and roads - and carries pollutants, including nitrogen and phosphorus, into local waterways.
  • Wastewater: Our sewer and septic systems are responsible for treating large quantities of waste, and these systems do not always operate properly or remove enough nitrogen and phosphorus before discharging into waterways.
  • Fossil Fuels: Electric power generation, industry, transportation and agriculture have increased the amount of nitrogen in the air through use of fossil fuels.
  • In and Around the Home: Fertilizers, yard and pet waste, and certain soaps and detergents contain nitrogen and phosphorus, and can contribute to nutrient pollution if not properly used or disposed of. The amount of hard surfaces and type of landscaping can also increase the runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus during wet weather.


Learn More Through This Informative EPA Video.


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