Nitrogen in the form of nitrites and nitrates can cause serious health risks in humans, ranging from cancer and thyroid problems to respiratory issues and vitamin deficiencies. However, nitrogen molecules in a stable condition are essential to life. They play an important role in the genetic code and comprise up to 78 percent of Earth’s atmosphere.
Nitrogen molecules naturally found in the atmosphere are stable and generally nonreactive, but the same cannot be said of the forms of nitrogen found in fertilizer. Microbes transform these nitrates and nitrites so they can then easily pass through dirt, water and air. Unfortunately, the increased use of fertilizers has drastically multiplied the level of reactive nitrates and nitrites found in food and water supplies.
Drinking water contaminated by nitrates can cause methemoglobinemia, also known as “blue-baby syndrome.” It can also lead to a vitamin A deficiency, as well as a crippling of the thyroid gland. Nitrites can react with hemoglobin found in red blood cells and limit the amount of oxygen they transport. Furthermore, both nitrates and nitrites are known to create nitro amines, a leading cause of cancer. Respiratory systems can also be affected by nitrogen in nitrous oxide form, which can lead to a worsening of illnesses like asthma.