The accelerated use of agricultural chemicals over the past 20 to 30 years has profitably increased production but has also had an adverse impact on ground water quality in many of the major agricultural areas of the world. The pollution of ground water, related to nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, from widespread, routine land application, as well as point sources has become a serious concern. Ground water contributions also impair surface water quality. Research, worldwide, has shown rates of nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) increases in ground water typically between 0.1 to 1.9 mg/l per year for 10 to 20 years, concurrent with major increases in nitrogen fertilization. Many shallow ground water supplies now exceed the recommended NO3-N drinking water standards. While many sources contribute nitrogen into the environment, synthetic fertilizers have become the major component. There are clear economic incentives to improve management; harvested crops often account for less than 50% of the purchased fertilizer inputs. Pesticides are appearing in ground water with unanticipated frequency, typically in 0.1 to 10.0 μg/l concentrations. While these concentrations are well below acute toxic levels (for most pesticides), many are of concern for possible chronic effects. Such widespread pollution is of real concern because of the potential for long-term and widespread exposure to the public of toxic substances through drinking water. While there are many uncertainties, agriculture must move forward toward solutions through better management.
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Hallberg, G.R. The impacts of agricultural chemicals on ground water quality. GeoJournal 15, 283–295 (1987). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00213456