Nitrogen is the fifth most abundant element in the Universe. It constitutes 78% of Earth's air. In the form of gas it is colourless, odourless and generally considered as inert gas. In the form of liquid it is also colourless and odourless and looks like water.
Do you know that Nitrogen is essential to life on Earth? The compounds of Nitrogen are present in organic materials, foods, fertilizers, explosives and poisons. No doubt it is essential component for life but in excess everything is dangerous and so is Nitrogen to the environment.
Human Acceleration of the Nitrogen Cycle: Managing Risks and Uncertainty report produced by the OECD in collaboration with the UNICEF Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen (TERN), revealed that pollution caused by Nitrogen is being overlooked as governments continue to focus simply on carbon emissions, ignoring the growing risks to health and the environment.
What is Nitrogen pollution?
As we know that nitrogen makes plants grow but too much nitrogen flows to rivers, bays etc. which disturbs marine life and kills fishes. According to scientists nitrogen pollution from fertilizers and other sources has become a major environmental problem that threatens human health and welfare in several ways. Nitrogen pollution is caused by excess of nitrogen and phosphorous in air and water. Too much nitrogen and phosphorous in the water causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle.
Impacts of Nitrogen Pollution
According to the above mentioned report half of the world’s population depends on nitrogen fertilisers for food consumption and since the beginning of the 20th century the amount of nitrogen in chemically reactive forms has doubled.
Also comparison of the impact of nitrogen is done with that of carbon dioxide in the report and it says that the impacts of the carbon dioxide depends upon the global emission levels and that of nitrogen pollution significantly depends upon the local factors.
Atmospheric emissions of nitrogen oxides reduce air quality by depleting the ozone layer and when combined with ammonia via particulate matter, increases human health risk like respiratory diseases and cancer.
In water bodies the presence of nitrates contributes to the eutrophication in lakes and coastal areas, impacting fisheries and drinking water quality. Not only this, nitrogen also damage ecosystems through acidification of soils and seas.
As nitrogen change its form and can be found in the air, water and soils like nitrogen dioxide from cars can create ground-level ozone and then changes it to nitric acid which enters the soil and leech into groundwater.
*This changing nature of the chemical makes it difficult to track. To tackle the problem of nitrogen pollution it is necessary to report among other measures, suggests limiting the use of nitrogen in agriculture and industries, detailed monitoring and reporting its effects and policies to regulate it at the national level.
It is necessary to curb the use of nitrogen in the fertilizers.
Nitrogen is an essential building block for amino acids, proteins and DNA. The growth of plants depends upon it. Animals and people get it from eating plants or other animals. As we know that all the nutrients in our food originally come from the soil. To make crops healthy with full of nutrients it is necessary for the farmers to make soil healthy and for this farmers use nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium and potassium. These nutrients allow plants to grow. But if nutrients level is too low then the plant cannot function properly. After harvesting the crop for human consumption, it is necessary to re-fill the nutrients into the soil. Nutrients can be added from a variety of sources like organic matter, chemical fertilizers and even by some plants. In this way fertility of the soil is maintained and farmer continue to grow nutritious crops and healthy crops.
Facts about Nitrogen
- Chemical Symbol of Nitrogen: N
- Classification: Non-metal
- Atomic Number: 7
- Atomic weight or average mass of the atom: 14.0067
- Density: 0.0012506 grams per cubic centimetre
- Melting Point: - 321 degrees Fahrenheit (- 210 degree Celsius)
- Boiling Point: - 320.42 F (- 195.79 Celsius)
- Number of Isotopes: 16 including 2 stable ones
- Most common isotope of Nitrogen: Nitrogen-14 (abundance 99.63 percent).
- Nitrogen under normal conditions is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas under normal conditions.
- At room temperature it occurs in the form of gas.
The valence of nitrogen is 3 or 5 or nitrogen has 3 or 5 electrons in the outermost shell and so it loses electrons to attain stable electron affinity. Therefore, it forms negatively charged ions (anions) that readily react with other non-metals to form covalent bonds.
It makes up around 78% of the air you breathe. It is present in all living things, including the human body and plants. It is also used to store bulk packaged food to keep it fresh. Even for industrial purpose it is used to make electronic parts etc.
Nitrogen in gaseous form is used to store beer in pressurised kegs as an alternative to carbon dioxide. The largest moon of Saturn namely Titan has approximately 98% of atmosphere made up of nitrogen.
Let us tell you that Nitrogen gas in an inert gas but the bacteria of soil fix nitrogen into a form that plants and animals can use to make amino acids and proteins.
At very low temperature, nitrogen occurs in liquid state and has many useful applications including storing items at cold temperatures, in the field of cryogenics that is how materials behave at very low temperatures, as a computer coolant that is like a fluid used to prevent overheating etc.
Do you know that the laughing gas is nitrous oxide which is used in hospitals and dental clinics as an anesthetic for removing or reducing pain and for surgeries? It is also used in motor racing to increase the power of engine and speed of the vehicle. It is also a known as green house gas and as an air pollutant. According to the weight it has nearly 300 times more impact than carbon dioxide.
For generating explosives like dynamite, nitro-glycerine in liquid form is used. Nitric acid is used in the production of fertilizers and is a strong acid. Ammonia is also used as a fertilizer which is also another form of nitrogen compound.
Applications of Nitrogen
- Nitrogen is present in pharmacological drugs.
- It is used as anaesthetic, in the form of nitrous oxide.
- In the form of gas as Cryopreservation it is used to conserve egg, blood, sperm and other biological specimens.
- In computer CPUs it is used in the form of gas to keep them away from heating.
- X-ray detectors also rely on this element.
- Several industries use it to destroy toxic liquids and vapours in industrial tools.
- It is also used as oxidation reaction catalyst.
- Used as flour bleaching agent and rocket fuel.
- It is also used in making lights bulbs.
- Used in packaged foods i.e. to preserve the freshness of packaged foods.
- Used as fertilisers.
- In making explosives it is also used.
- In making electronic parts that is transistors, integrated circuits and diodes.
- It is used in manufacturing stainless steel, electroplating processes for making more resistant to corrosion.
- It is used as dielectric gas for high voltage equipment.
- Used in pharmaceuticals as a constituent of almost major class of drugs including antibiotics, as an anaesthetic agent etc.
So, now you may have understood about nitrogen pollution and its impact, facts about nitrogen etc.