Growing Corn Is A Major Contributor To Air Pollution, Study Finds

NPR.org | 4/1/2019 | Jonathan Lambert
Click For Photo: https://media.npr.org/assets/img/2019/04/01/gettyimagescorn_wide-497c7d59107107c4678746d4fc3a734370d493aa.jpg?s=1400

An aerial view of a combine harvesting corn in a field near Jarrettsville, Md. A new study ties an estimated 4,300 premature deaths a year to the air pollution caused by corn production in the U.S.

You've probably heard statistics about how our diet affects the health of the planet. Like how a beef hamburger takes considerably more water and land to produce than a veggie burger or that around a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions stem from food production. In fact, there are websites that can calculate the carbon footprint of specific foods.

Food - Contributes - Quality - Air

But you may not have considered how the food we eat contributes to the quality of the air we breathe.

Air pollution is the largest environmental health risk factor in the United States, and agriculture contributes in a number of ways. Fertilizer application, gas use, pesticide production and dust kicked up from tilling all affect air quality. But the sort of accounting done for the carbon footprint of foods hasn't been done for their air pollution footprint.

Monday - Study - Nature - Sustainability - Production

That changed Monday with a study published in Nature Sustainability. It modeled how the production of a single crop, corn, contributes to air pollution in the United States. The researchers found that corn production accounts for 4,300 premature deaths related to air pollution every year in the United States. Ammonia from fertilizer application was by far the largest contributor to corn's air pollution footprint.

"If you want to do anything about air pollution, you need to know the cause," says Susanne Bauer, a climate modeler at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, who was not involved in the study. "This is an important study because instead of just saying air pollution kills people, it's detailing the specific contributions of different parts of the corn production process to air pollution."

Corn

Corn is the largest agricultural...
(Excerpt) Read more at: NPR.org
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