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The Netherlands keeps looking for problems. First CO2 and now nitrogen, i.e., nitrogen compounds, such as ammonium and nitrogen dioxide, give political and social headaches. What’s the problem? Well, high concentrations of these chemicals affect nature. Most plants grow well by it, but some species may then prevail. What’s wrong with that? The landscape can, therefore, change, especially on low-food soils. Moorland, for example, might become forestland with grasses and nettles. And what’s wrong with that? Actually, nothing at all, but some scholars want nature to stay the way it is. They strive for a kind of natural conservatism.

How and when did these low-food soils arise? Mainly because of the agricultural activities of farmers from the 19th century and before. For example, farmlands became bare, dry surfaces where only specific plants survive. It may be fun, those shifting sands and bluegrass lands with their rare plant species, but to sacrifice our livestock and housing to it in my view is an extreme measure.

 

Apparently, three culprits bring too much nitrogen into the environment: cars, (livestock) farmers, and housebuilders. Cars produce it in their exhaust gases, farmers have too many cows and chickens that produce nothing but shit and ammonia and what housebuilders do, I haven’t found out yet. The figure shows that NO2 emissions in the Netherlands are caused not by livestock farming, but by cars. Electric cars will solve that later; the future CO2 problem has been moved to the power plants.

A real and appealing problem, in my view, is the bio-industry and the miserable conditions in which farmers keep their animals. If that is the reason to halve the livestock, I can understand it. Apart from that, previous measures have already reduced emissions of NO2 and NH3 by more than 50% between 1990 and 2017. So please, let the house construction projects proceed! Oh, wait a minute. They’ve discovered something new.

 

In the case of excavation work (an inevitable part of building houses), another substance is released: Perfluoralkyl (PFAS). That’s what the world is worried about now. PFAS is a man-made[1] group of chemicals used in fat and water-repellent materials such as Tefal pans, rainwear, and fire-fighting foams. Over the years it has ended up in the environment like in the ground, surface water and ultimately also in our blood. Because PFAS is not degradable, it accumulates everywhere. Is it harmful to our health? Scholars are still doing research, but one believes that it is harmful to babies and may be carcinogenic. Believed but yet not proven!

 

[1] By a ‘Dupont’ engineer in the 1930s.