Reactive-nitrogen (Nr) has a wide variety of beneficial and detrimental effects on human health. The most important of the beneficial effects are increasing global and regional food supplies and increased nutritional quality of available foods. However, lack of adequate dietary intake of amino acids and proteins is a serious cause of malnutrition when food supplies are inadequate because of poverty, drought, floods, wars, and displacements of people as refugees. There is sufficient, though limited, quantitative data indicating that increased circulation of Nr in the environment is responsible for significant human health effects via other exposure pathways. Nr can lead to harmful health effects from airborne occupational exposures and population-wide indoor and outdoor air pollution exposures to nitrogen dioxide and ozone. Nr can also affect health via water pollution problems, including methemoglobinemia from contaminated ground water, eutrophication causing fish kills and algal blooms that can be toxic to humans, and via global warming. The environmental pollutants stemming from reactive nitrogen are ubiquitous, making it difficult to identify the extent to which Nr exerts a specific health effect. As all populations are susceptible, continued interdisciplinary investigations are needed to determine the extent and nature of the beneficial and harmful effects on human health of nitrogen-related pollutants and their derivatives.
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Vol. 31 • No. 2