Economic Valuation and Environmental Toxicology
Edited by Clive L. Spash and Sandra McNally
Chapter 9: Cost-effectiveness analysis for nitrate pollution control in the European Union
Floor Brouwer INTRODUCTION While nitrogen is an essential nutrient to enhance plant growth, in many regions of Europe the quantity applied to agricultural land far exceeds crop requirements. Furthermore, excessive quantities of nitrogen are often fed to livestock - which is then simply excreted. Nitrates in drinking water are considered a serious threat to human health, as nitrates are transformed in the body into nitrites - a process that can limit transformation of oxygen through the body. Young babies are particularly vulnerable to this and may develop a condition known as ‘blue baby syndrome’ (although the nitrate level would have to be far in excess of the current EU standard of 50 mg per litre). Furthermore, nitrites react with compounds in the stomach, which may subsequently cause cancer in animals. However, there is no scientific evidence to link nitrites and cancer in humans (European Commission 1998). High nitrate levels can also lead to eutrophication of fresh and coastal waters, causing algal blooms and fish deaths. Eutrophication of surface waters is a particular problem in some of the marine and coastal areas of Europe - such as the coastal zones of the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean. The high external costs of excessive nitrogen application have led to several EU directives designed to prevent and control such pollution. In meeting the consequent environmental and human health standards, adjustments are required by the agricultural sector in the European Union. A wide variety of adjustment processes need to be considered,...
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