Massive amounts of phosphorus, a valuable fertilizer needed to feed a growing global population, are being lost to the oceans as result of inefficiencies in farming and a failure to recycle wastewater.. Phosphorus pollution, along with other uncontrolled discharges, such as nitrogen and sewage, are linked with a rise in algal blooms which in turn harm water quality, poison fish stocks and undermine coastal tourism. In the United States alone, the costs are estimated to be running at over US$2 billion a year, indicating that globally and annually the damage may run into the tens of billion of dollars.
At the same time there is also growing concern over the impact of billions of pieces of plastic, both large and small, on the health of the global marine environment. New research suggests that the plastic broken down in the oceans into small fragments —alongside pellets discharged by industry—may absorb a range of toxic chemicals linked to cancer and impacts the reproductive processes of humans and wildlife.
Experts say both phosphorus discharges and new concerns over plastics underline the need for better management of the world’s wastes and improved patterns of consumption and production. The two issues are spotlighted as among key issues —deemed persistent, re-emerging or newly emerging— in the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Year Book 2011 which is being presented today in advance of the annual gathering of the world’s environment ministers opening on 21 February.
The Year Book calls for a global phosphorus assessment to more precisely map phosphorus flows in the environment and predict levels of economically viable reserves. According to the Year Book, the global use of fertilizers that contain phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium increased by 600 per cent between 1950 and 2000. It adds that population growth in developing countries and increased levels of dairy and meat in the global diet are likely to increase fertilizer use further.
The UNEP Year Book 2011 is available at http://www.unep.org/yearbook/2011
Excerpt, Fertilizer and plastic pollution are main emerging issues in 2011 UNEP Year Book, UNEP Press Release, Feb. 17, 2011