Last reviewed 18 November 2020

The Government has launched a consultation on how to cut ammonia emissions from the use of solid urea fertilisers to help protect human health and the environment from ammonia emissions.

In low concentrations, ammonia is not harmful to human health. However, when ammonia emissions combine with pollution from industry and transport they form very fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which can be transported significant distances, adding to the overall background levels to which people are exposed. When inhaled, particulate matter can penetrate deeply into body organs and contribute to causing cardiovascular and respiratory disease. It is estimated that particulate matter emissions as a whole result in 29,000 early deaths every year in the UK.

When deposited on land, ammonia can acidify soils and freshwaters, “over-fertilising” natural plant communities. The extra nitrogen can increase the growth of some species (such as rough grasses and nettles), which out-complete other species (such as sensitive lichens, mosses, and herb species) that have lower nitrogen requirements.

The Government has committed to reducing ammonia emissions by 8% of 2005 levels by 2020, and a 16% reduction by 2030. 87% of the UK’s ammonia emissions result from farming.

Three options are presented in the consultation document:

  • A total ban on solid urea fertilisers.

  • A requirement to stabilise solid urea fertilisers with the addition of a urease inhibitor — a chemical that helps slow the conversion of urea to ammonium.

  • A requirement to restrict the spreading of solid urea fertilisers so they can only be used from 15 January to 31 March While each of these options will support the Government’s commitment to reducing ammonia emissions, a ban on solid urea fertilisers would achieve around 31% of the ammonia reduction target by 2030.

Views on these options can be submitted via the online survey by 26 January 2021.