Air pollution can damage fragile aquatic ecosystems, with one of the most harmful pollutants being nitrogen.
Although nitrogen is a vital nutrient for all living things, including aquatic plants, too much of it does more harm than good. Emissions from burning fossil fuels in vehicles and power plants are sources of atmospheric nitrogen that can end up in our water.
An overabundance of nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, in marine and freshwater ecosystems can lead to an increase in harmful algal blooms (HABs). In addition to air pollution, other potential sources of nutrients to waterbodies may come from stormwater runoff, agricultural runoff, urban land runoff, point sources, streambank erosion, road ditches, and septic systems.
Most algae are harmless and are an essential part of the food web, but some species of algae can produce toxins that can be harmful to people and animals. Warm temperatures, with high levels of nutrients in the water, and sunny, calm days are some of the conditions that may lead to an overgrowth of algae.
When it comes to HABs, DEC encourages New Yorkers to “KNOW IT, AVOID IT, REPORT IT.”
- KNOW IT – HABs vary in appearance in the water from scattered green dots to long, linear green streaks, pea soup, or spilled green paint, to blue-green or white coloration.
- AVOID IT – People, pets, and livestock should avoid contact with the discolored water and water with algal scums on the surface.
- REPORT IT – If you suspect a HAB, report it through the NYHABS online reporting form. Health concerns related to HABs should be reported via email to the NYS Department of Health at email@example.com.
Water Week in NYS begins May 9th, but you can start protecting our water and air today. Help reduce the effects of fossil fuel emissions on our water by greening your commute and conserving energy. Don’t over fertilize your lawn this spring. Look for the “zero” to buy phosphorus-free fertilizer products. Follow sustainable lawn care practices to prevent HABs in nearby waterbodies. Check out DEC’s website for other ways you can help keep air pollution out of our water and air. While you’re there, you can also read up on HABs.
Photo of harmful algal blooms provided by DEC.