Harmful Effects of Fertilizers

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, most fertilizers contain about the same basic materials: nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and sometimes other nutrients, like zinc, needed for healthy plant growth. Many people use fertilizers to give extra life to their lawn and garden, but few people consider the potential drawbacks of these fertilizers. In an effort to be as environmentally conscious as possible, it is important to consider the potentially harmful effects of fertilizers as well as the benefits.

Crop duster spraying fertilizer (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Human Carcinogens

The most significant harmful effects come from fertilizer that is designed to kill or prevent weeds. According to the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, 12 of the most popular pesticides in the United States have ingredients known to cause cancer. Organic fertilizers are guaranteed to be safe for the environment, the body and free of pesticides.

Water Pollution

While fertilizers may be beneficial to the plants, they are not always as healthy for the rest of the environment. Many of the "quick-release" fertilizers have been known to lead to oxygen loss in waterways due to runoff into the street and, as a result, into the water. High amounts of nitrogen can find their way into waterways in this way, causing an excess of algae and a resulting loss of oxygen in the water. This can have a negative effect on fish and other wildlife in the water.

Toxic Waste Potential

Many people do not realize that some fertilizers are made from the residuals of waste water treatment facilities or recycled from other areas that cause them to test positive for toxic waste. According to the federation of Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG), 29 popular fertilizers tested positive for 22 toxic heavy metals, including silver, nickel, selenium, thallium and vanadium. All of the metals found are linked directly to human health hazards.

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