Study finds link between excess nutrients and ecosystem impacts

arianne-cease-diets-ecosystemA study led by ASU sustainability scientist Arianne Cease demonstrates how human food production can have a profound impact on ecosystems. For example, phosphorous is commonly added to foods as a preservative, leading to an excess in waste streams. It can also run off and enter the water supply when waste is used as fertilizer in agriculture. When there is an imbalance of nutrients like phosphorous entering bodies of water, toxic algal blooms may result. “These algal blooms can contaminate drinking water and reduce water clarity, oxygen levels and biodiversity,” said Michelle McCrackin, a researcher at Stockholm University (Sweden) and a member of Cease's team. Cease's study shows that new ways of recycling nutrients to fertilize crops, along with upgrades to waste treatment facilities to remove more nutrients like phosphorus, could substantially reduce water pollution.