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What Is Eutrophication & How Is It Caused by Human Industry?

April 12, 2023 In Mass Tort

Maintaining the health of our environment is crucial for our well-being, but human industry often poses a threat to the delicate balance of ecosystems. Eutrophication is one such issue that results from the excessive release of nutrients into our waterways, which promotes the growth of harmful algae and other aquatic plants. 

This phenomenon can have severe environmental consequences and ultimately disrupt the natural order of our water-based ecosystems. While human industry, particularly agriculture and wastewater discharges, is the primary cause of eutrophication, some steps can be taken to minimize its effects. In some cases, particularly egregious industrial acts that lead to environmental damage may result in a mass tort lawsuit.

What Is Eutrophication?

Eutrophication occurs when nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, are introduced into a waterway, promoting the growth of algae and other aquatic plants. This process can be accelerated by human activity, particularly when pollutants are released into waterways, such as agricultural runoff or wastewater discharges. Eutrophication can happen in many bodies of water, particularly those with shallow depths. In some cases, it can even be beneficial.

However, the excessive growth of algae and other aquatic plants caused by eutrophication can cause serious harm to the ecosystem. Eutrophication can have severe impacts on aquatic life, killing fish and other plants and leading to a loss of biodiversity.

What Are the Nutrients That Cause Eutrophication?

Nitrogen and phosphorous are the two primary nutrients that contribute to eutrophication. Both of these nutrients are essential for plant growth, but too much can lead to overgrowth and therefore eutrophication. In many cases, human industry is responsible for these industries entering the waterways.

Nitrogen is often found in agricultural fertilizers, sewage, and animal waste. The nitrogen from these sources can be transported to waterways through runoff or leaching. Additionally, this nutrient can be deposited into waterways from the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil.

Phosphorus is often found in agricultural fertilizers and human and animal waste. It can be transported to waterways through surface runoff, erosion, and leaching. Phosphorus can also enter waterways through airborne pollutants, particularly in areas that are downwind from sources of pollution. 

What Are the Effects of Eutrophication?

Eutrophication is a complex phenomenon that can cause a range of negative effects on the environment. First, the excessive growth of algae and other aquatic plants can lead to a decrease in dissolved oxygen levels in the water, known as hypoxia. Species that require higher levels of oxygen struggle to survive in these conditions, leading to death and a loss of biodiversity. 

Moreover, when algae and other aquatic plants can overgrow, they can form large mats that block sunlight. This reduction in light can prevent sunlight from reaching other plants, preventing photosynthesis. This can lead to reduced oxygen production, further exacerbating hypoxia. As a result, the populations of fish and shellfish that depend on these plants for food and habitat can decline.

Eutrophication can also promote the growth of harmful algal blooms. These blooms can produce toxins that can be harmful to humans and animals, leading to the closure of beaches, fish and shellfish consumption advisories, and the loss of revenue for the tourism and fishing industries. Additionally, harmful algal blooms can harm or kill aquatic life, further exacerbating the loss of biodiversity.

The loss of biodiversity caused by eutrophication can have long-term impacts on the ecosystem. When one species is affected, it can have a ripple effect on the entire ecosystem, leading to changes in the food web and other ecological processes. Moreover, eutrophication can lead to the growth of invasive species, which can further disrupt the ecosystem, as they outcompete native species for resources and habitats.

Can Eutrophication Be Prevented?

Preventing eutrophication requires a multi-pronged approach that involves reducing the number of nutrients that enter waterways and promoting the restoration of degraded ecosystems. Several measures can be taken to prevent eutrophication:

  • Reducing Nutrient Waste: Reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that enters waterways is a crucial step in preventing eutrophication. This can be achieved through the implementation of best management practices in agriculture, such as reducing the use of fertilizers and improving nutrient management practices. Additionally, wastewater treatment plants can implement technologies that remove nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater before discharge.
  • Restoring Degraded Ecosystems: The restoration of degraded ecosystems can help to prevent eutrophication by promoting the growth of native plants and improving water quality. Wetlands, for example, can act as natural filters, removing excess nutrients from waterways and could help reverse the effects of eutrophication.
  • Education and Outreach: Raising awareness of the impacts of nutrient pollution and promoting best management practices can play a crucial role in reducing the impact of eutrophication. This can include working with farmers to improve nutrient management practices, educating homeowners on proper lawn care practices, and promoting the use of low-phosphorus detergents.
  • Policy and Regulations: Policies and regulations can also play a crucial role in preventing eutrophication. For example, the Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of pollutants into waterways, including nitrogen and phosphorus. Additionally, nutrient trading programs can provide economic incentives for reducing nutrient inputs. However, the government and corporations will need to work to uphold these policies for them to be effective.

Pursuing Legal Action for Harm Caused by Eutrophication

Eutrophication is a significant environmental issue that can have severe impacts on the ecosystem. Human industry, particularly the release of pollutants into waterways, is a significant contributor to eutrophication. To prevent this damage, businesses, government entities, farmers, and other parties will need to work together and reduce nutrient waste.

Unfortunately, not everyone is responsible, and eutrophication can wreak havoc on the environment. If you or your property is harmed by eutrophication, you may be able to pursue a lawsuit against those responsible, such as agricultural producers and wastewater treatment plans. 

However, pursuing legal action for harm caused by eutrophication can be challenging. Proving causation and identifying those responsible can be complex, and legal action may require significant resources and expertise. 

In these situations, you need an attorney on your side who can fight for your right to financial compensation and build a strong case in your favor. Contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case and learn more about your legal options.