PS 12-118
National and watershed-scale damages from the release of nitrogen beyond the farm, factory, tailpipe and table

Monday, August 10, 2015
Exhibit Hall, Baltimore Convention Center
Jana Compton, US EPA, Corvallis, OR
Daniel Sobota, Environmental Solutions Division, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Portland, OR
Michelle McCrackin, Stockholm University, Sweden
Shweta Singh, Purdue Univ.

Human demand for food, fuel, and industrial products results in the release of 61% of newly fixed anthropogenic N to the environment in the US each year. This 15.8 Tg N yr-1 release to air, land and water has important social, economic and environmental consequences, yet little research clearly links this N release to the full suite of effects. Here we connect the biogeochemical fluxes of N with existing data on N-associated damages in order to quantify the externalities of N release related to human health, ecosystems and climate regulation for the US at national and watershed scales. Release of N to the environment was estimated circa 2000 with models describing N inputs by source, nutrient uptake efficiency, leaching losses, and gaseous emissions at the scale of 8-digit US Geologic Survey Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUC8s).


We use these estimates of N loss from human uses with information on cost of nitrogen in various forms across the N cascade in order to estimate annual damage cost ($USD in 2008 or as reported) of anthropogenic N leaked to the environment by scaling specific N losses with the costs associated with human health, agriculture, ecosystems, and the climate system. Eutrophication of freshwater ecosystems and respiratory effects of atmospheric N pollution were important across HUC8s. Significant data gaps remain in our ability to fully assess N damages, such as damage costs from harmful algal blooms and drinking water contamination. Nationally, potential health and environmental damages of anthropogenic N in the early 2000s totaled $210 billion yr−1 USD (range: $81–$441 billion yr−1).  While a number of gaps and uncertainties remain in these estimates, overall this work represents a starting point to inform decisions and engage stakeholders on the costs of N pollution.