NCSU Study Finds Ag Fertilizers a Threat to Water Organisms

Study focused on tiny water fleas.

Published on: Sep 10, 2010
A study at N.C. State University, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation, says it is possible fertilizer chemicals are a bigger danger to organisms, especially those organisms that live in water, than has been here-to-fore suspected.

NCSU's Gerald LeBlanc, professor of environmental and molecular toxicology, was one of the primary researchers in the study. He says water fleas were shown to absorb the nitrates and nitrites in fertilizers and convert them to nitric oxide, which is toxic to many organisms. The water fleas exposed to the fertilizers suffered from developmental and reproductive problems, even at low concentrations.

"Nitrite concentrations in water vary across the United States, but commonly fall within 1 to 2 milligrams per liter of water," LeBlanc says. "We saw negative effects to water fleas at approximately 0.3 milligrams per liter of water."

Some of the recorded harmful effects included water flea babies that were underdeveloped at birth. For example, he notes some lacked appendages needed for swimming.

"It's not possible to eliminate nitrates and nitrites from our lives – they do wonders in agricultural crop production," LeBlanc says. "But we can take measures to ensure that the benefits of these chemicals outweigh their risks by keeping them out of surface waters."

The study was published in the Aug. 27 edition of PloS.