Vol. 8, No. 39
Sept. 28-Oct. 4, 2000
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Fertilizers: Our Sneaky Environmental Killer

In this space we occasionally tip our hats to our newspaper colleagues for public service. We do so today in the midst of a series of stories in the Baltimore Sun about the devastating effects of nitrogen in the waters of the world.

Tom Horton and Heather Dewar have chronicled what is happening around the world as our reliance on fertilizers and our trouble with animal waste continue to mount. We know for a fact that no newspaper has done this before. Nitrogen, of course, is one of the most damaging pollutants locally, figuring into just about everything that ails the Chesapeake Bay, including the decline of crabs - by choking Bay grasses.

Horton and Dewar tell us a startling fact that has eluded people: In a few decades, we have artificially doubled the amount of nitrogen on this planet. They are not joking in their ground-breaking and hopefully award-winning series detailing how fertilizers threaten all of us with, in their words, "ecological calamity."

They traveled widely to prove their points. More than half of the 127 coastal bays in this country - the Chesapeake among them - are afflicted with nitrogen, which destroys oxygen and everything that depends on it.

They traveled the bayous of Louisiana, where nitrogen from farm fertilizers spread in the Midwest have poured out of the Mississippi River to create a massive "Dead Zone," destroying the livelihood of scores of shrimpers and fishermen.

They reported from Poland and from China, where the world's biggest nation is destroying its waterways by fertilizing the crops needed to feed people.

They reported from the Netherlands how a country is coming to grips with animal wastes, bringing back lessons in what we along the Chesapeake must do to rein in the Eastern Shore chicken industry.

Horton, who lives on the Eastern Shore, has shined many a light on practices that threaten the Chesapeake. And Dewar, relatively new at The Sun, shows promise of doing the same. They and The Sun should be applauded for devoting the time and expense needed to persuade policy-makers that something you don't see or smell can destroy. Evidence such as they gathered is what's needed to combat the powerful farm lobbies and to persuade consumers to fix their septics and go slow on the Miracle Grow and the lawn chemicals that contribute to the problem.

Too many newspapers cover the environment by flopping out both sides of an issue without telling us what really is going on. Read a piece or two of The Sun's excellent series and you'll see what is happening. We're poisoning our planet.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly