Air Pollution from Agriculture Rivals Motor Vehicle Emissions


A major source of air pollution may be right underfoot. Agricultural land is responsible for between 20% and 32% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) air pollution in California, according to new research. This is a major revision of the previous estimates, which put the contribution of cropland to NOx air pollution at a mere 3.8%.

In Europe and the U.S. Midwest, agricultural soils are responsible for around 30% of NOx emissions, so California’s 3.8% estimate didn’t really add up, says study leader Maya Almaraz, a postdoctoral researcher at the Univ. of California, Davis. Observed levels of NOx around the state were often higher than could be explained by fossil fuels alone, particularly in the agriculture-heavy Central Valley, where poor air quality is a common problem. The existing estimates for soil NOx emissions were based on a few spots around Sacramento, Almaraz says, so they hardly provided a comprehensive view of the state.

NOx is a term for the nitrogen oxides that are a primary component of air pollution and smog. NOx gases are toxic — they can contribute to the formation of particulate matter and aerosols, which inflame lung tissue, and to the formation of ozone, which...

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