As one of the most widespread pollutants worldwide, nitrogen has long been a concern in the environment, including groundwater. However, due to the limitations of investigations and study progress, there is still a poor understanding of groundwater nitrogen pollution and its potential effects on human health in many areas, particularly in developing countries. The spatiotemporal evolution of groundwater nitrate nitrogen levels and potential human health risks in the Songnen Plain, Northeast China were comprehensively studied based on both our own test data and available published data that were collected by us over a study period from 1995 to 2015. Groundwater nitrate nitrogen concentrations exhibited significant temporal and spatial differences: there was an increasing trend with time; and the distribution of high concentration areas expanded from the central and western areas to the east with time. The similar pattern existed in the potential health risks posed to the residents considering the two exposure pathways including drinking water and dermal contact. The effects of groundwater nitrate nitrogen on human health depend on the nitrate concentration but there were also age differences, namely, in the order of infants > children > adult females ≈ adult males, according to the hazard quotient (HQ) used in the human health risk assessment (HHRA) model. The spatiotemporal evolution of groundwater nitrate nitrogen levels and potential human health risks indicate that the issue of nitrogen pollution in groundwater in the study area is worsening and needs further attention. The drivers that increased nitrate nitrogen concentrations in the groundwater of the study area were the increased fertilizer use due to the increased cultivated land area and implementation of a land fertility policy by the local government. It should be acknowledged that the results have uncertainties that not only come from the layout of sampling points and selection of spatial interpolation methods but also come from the parameter settings in the assessment model and assumptions of drinking water scenarios. However, the conclusions still have important reference value for groundwater pollution control and management and human health risk supervision and early warning.
Copyright © 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.