Controversy over nitrogen emissions erupts again: What is nitrogen and what does it do to the environment and our health?

Nitrogen oxides also play a role in the formation of acid rain and are a necessary component of photochemical smog, or summer smog, when there is too much ozone in the air.

Ammonia concentrations in the air are not so high that it can lead to health problems, but ammonia, in turn, causes environmental problems.

When nitrogen particles settle on the soil, it provides fertilization. Usually nitrogen is so scarce in the soil that plants need it to grow. However, a number of plants are adapted to poor soil and when enriched with precipitated nitrogen, those plants will be outdone by species such as nettle, blackberry and grasses, which do well in nutrient-rich soils.

About a quarter of the plants benefit from richer soils, while the rest have difficulty reducing biodiversity. Insects and other life forms that depend on adaptive plants will also degrade and affect biodiversity even more.

The soil can also become acidic due to the presence of nitrogen, which also results in the loss of some plant species.

When nitrogen particles end up in fresh water, a process called eutrophication occurs. The excess nitrogen can lead to the rapid growth of some algae, which in turn can lead to hypoxia and lack of light in the water. This also leads to the impoverishment of biodiversity.

Additionally, the water can also acidify the water and this can lead to the death of some delicate fish.

Too much nitrogen is deposited in 80 percent of Flemish nature reserves, which is in violation of the European Habitat Directive. Annually 25 kilograms of pure nitrogen per hectare is deposited, while this should be an average of only 16 kilograms.

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Megan Vasquez

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