The Role of Agriculture in Pollution

Teresa Madaleno

Agricultural emissions far outweigh all other human sources of fine particulate air pollution in major countries around the world. A new study confirms fumes from nitrogen rich fertilizer and animal waste combine in the air with industrial waste to form a huge amount of pollution in the United States, Europe, Russia and China.

On the up-side, researchers say that if fine-particle pollution, which is defined as particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets, decline in the coming decades, pollution could go down even if fertilizer use doubles.

Science Daily reports that most air pollution from agricultural is a result of ammonia. The ammonia gets into the air from fertilized fields, as well as livestock waste. It mixes with other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfates from vehicles, industrial processes, and power plants. This mixture leads to the development of tiny solid particles, sometimes referred to as aerosols. The tiny aerosols that are 1/30 the width of a human hair can penetrate deep into human lungs, causing health problems.

A study in the journal Nature has estimated that every year, aerosols cause approximately 3.3 million deaths worldwide.

While several studies have taken note of agricultural pollution in the past, this is the first to look at fine-particulate air pollution on a worldwide scale. It demonstrates that more than half of aerosol ingredients come from farming.

With the worldwide population expected to continue to rise, more food production and thus more fertilizing of fields will be required. Farmers are being encouraged to turn to natural or organic fertilizers. In recent years, crop rotation and natural fertilizers have become more popular. Naturally occurring fertilizers include animal wastes from meat processing, peat, manure, and fish.

Agricultural watchdogs contend that all aspects of farming need to be addressed when we think of feeding future generations. Unsustainable farming practices can not only lead to pollution, but wasteful water use, land erosion, and habitat loss.

When farms are managed in a sustainable way it can lead to an abundance of food and a healthy environment.