Reactive Water-Soluble Forms of Nitrogen and Phosphorus and Their Impacts on Environment and Human Health

  • Rolf Nieder
  • Dinesh K. Benbi
  • Franz X. Reichl


Water is a basic necessity of life and access to clean water is vital for sanitation, hygiene, agriculture, and industry. Yet the world faces threats of scarcity of clean drinking water and the pollution of the water resources. Groundwater is an important source of drinking-water in many regions of the world, particularly in areas with limited or polluted surface water sources. It could be contaminated with chemicals that may affect human health. Nitrate is the most common chemical contaminant in the world’s groundwater aquifers, and surface water are particularly affected by the presence of phosphorus. Occurrence of reactive N and P species in water can have serious environmental and human health impacts. Nitrate by itself is usually non-toxic. Its adverse effects on human health are due to conversion of nitrate into nitrite, nitric oxide and N-nitroso compounds. In the human body, NO3 is converted to NO2, which can cause methaemoglobinemia by interfering with the ability of haemoglobin to take up O2. Infants younger than 3 months of age are particularly prone to adverse effects of nitrate exposure. Opinions differ on the effects of high dietary intake of nitrate on human health and the evidence linking high nitrate level in drinking water with methaemoglobinemia is still controversial. High nitrate level in drinking water has also been implicated, but not incontrovertibly, in the incidence of cancers of the digestive track. Besides the possible adverse human health effects associated with high nitrate intake, evidence is emerging of its potential benefits in cardiovascular health and providing protection against infections. Enrichment of surface waters with nitrogen and phosphorus contributes to the phenomenon of eutrophication leading to harmful algal blooms, which can impact several ecosystem services. Therefore, it is important to protect the quality of groundwater and surface water by proper management of sources of pollutants and reducing input of nitrogen and phosphorus in agricultural systems. In this chapter, we provide information on sources of reactive nitrogen and phosphorus species in water, their effects on ecosystems and human health as well as mitigation strategies.


Water-soluble nitrogen compounds Nitrate in drinking water Leaching Runoff Nitrate metabolism Methaemoglobinemia Blue-baby syndrome Eutrophication Cyanotoxins Alagal blooms Preventive health care 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rolf Nieder
    • 1
  • Dinesh K. Benbi
    • 2
  • Franz X. Reichl
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of GeoecologyTechnische Universität BraunschweigBraunschweigGermany
  2. 2.Department of Soil SciencePunjab Agricultural University LudhianaLudhianaIndia
  3. 3.Walther-Straub Institute of Pharmacology and ToxicologyLMUMunichGermany

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