Environmental researchers warn of dangers of toxic nitrogen fertilizer

Report: Hillsborough has higher nitrogen levels

TAMPA, Fla. - Environmental researchers are urging people to look out for potentially toxic nitrogen fertilizer leaking into storm water.

This comes after recent issues with nitrogen in water, which has been linked to red tide, the loss of seagrass and toxic algae blooms on the east coast of Florida. 

Leesa Souto, executive director of the Marine Resources Council in Palm Bay said nitrogen-based fertilizer in storm water cause water quality issues.

Independent researchers, including Souto, created a report for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, looking at how people responded to ordinances banning the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers during part of the year.   

Hillsborough County community had the highest estimated fertilizer nitrogen inputs, the highest fertilizer frequency, the highest percentage of professionals responsible for landscape management, and the highest estimated annual total nitrogen loads of the communities studied in Pinellas, Manatee and Hillsborough, the report found. 

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program said these are the most recent numbers they have regarding fertilizer usage. The Hillsborough River Interlocal Planning Board is set to review the report on March 21.

In Hillsborough County, people are not supposed to use nitrogen-based fertilizers during hurricanes, flood watches and other rain events. This is when fertilizers are more likely to get washed into storm drains, polluting storm water.

In the City of Tampa and in Pinellas County, people cannot buy or use nitrogen-based fertilizers starting June 1-Sept. 30.

The report found that Pinellas County residents seemed to know more of the rules concerning fertilizer use and potential problems associated with it, the report found. That was far different than what researchers found people knew in  Manatee and Hillsborough County residents.

Souto said it's on homeowners as well as local nurseries and fertilizer retailers to follow local rules concerning fertilizers and not to use them during certain times of the year. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Manny Gil of Manny On The Bay Plants on Hillsborough Avenue says the best thing you can use is time-released, granulated fertilizers once a year.

He said the best, safest way to fertilize is to scoop away mulch and dirt surrounding the plant, put down the granulated fertilizer and then recover with dirt and then mulch. He said that is the best way to protect the fertilizer from powerful rains that can wash the fertilizer away.

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