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313695

Agriculture linked to one-fifth of U.S. air pollution deaths

Air pollution is the largest environmental mortality risk in the United States, responsible for 100,000 premature deaths annually, and one-fifth of those deaths are linked to agriculture, said research published by the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. Scientists from five universities noted in their study that air quality is largely ignored in discussions of the health and environmental impacts of food.

“Agricultural production in the United States results in 17,900 annual air quality-related deaths, 15,900 of which are from food production,” said the researchers. “Of those, 80% are attributable to animal-based foods, both directly from animal production and indirectly from growing animal feed.”

“Nearly 7 of every 10 of the agriculture-related deaths were due to emissions such as ammonia from livestock waste and fertilizer application,” said the paper. Most of the remainder were the result of dust from tillage, livestock dust, burning of vegetation in fields, and fuel combustion in agricultural equipment use.

Changes in farming practices could reduce particulate-related deaths by 50%, with steps such as improved management of livestock waste and fertilizer applications to reduce ammonia gasses, along with improvements in crop and livestock production to reduce dust that can lodge in lungs. “Dietary shifts toward more plant-based foods that maintain protein content and other nutritional needs could reduce agricultural air quality-related mortality by 68% to 83%.”

The study, “Air quality-related health damages of food,” is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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