Smog-producing air pollution declining more slowly


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Catalytic converters have decreased the amount of carbon monoxide emitted by cars dramatically since they were first introduced in the 1970s. (Chris Keating/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 1, 2018

A new study found that levels of two primary pollutants in the U.S. atmosphere have not been declining as rapidly during recent years as they once were.

Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) studied satellite data and ground level measurements of two smog-forming pollutants: nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Levels of these air pollutants decreased dramatically following the implementation of the Clean Air Act in the 1970s. Requirements of that act pushed automakers and energy-producers to develop new technology which curbed the emissions of these two pollutants.

The study found that concentration of these two pollutants in the atmosphere decreased by seven percent each year between 2005 and 2009. However, from 2011 through 2015, the pollutants’ levels only shrunk by 1.7 percent annually.

Helen Worden is a scientist at NCAR and one of the study’s authors. She said to Phys Org, “Although our air is healthier than it used to be in the 80s and 90s, air quality in the U.S. is not progressing as quickly as we thought. The gains are starting to slow down.”

The study noted that the slower decrease in carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides was especially severe in the eastern part of the U.S. This finding dispels notions that the slower pace can be attributed to traveling air pollution from countries like China. The positive news is that the slower decline in carbon monoxide, which is primarily emitted by vehicles, is likely due to the fact that major strides have already been made to reduce vehicle emissions. In short, clean air technology related to cars may have reached a kind of plateau.

This study was funded by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the National Science Foundation. The full journal article can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Iowa DNR report shows improvements in Iowa’s air quality since 1978


Iowa Department of Natural Resources)

Nick Fetty | May 13, 2016

Air quality in Iowa has improved dramatically over the past five decades according to a recent report by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The report – Ambient Air Quality Improvements in Iowa – finds that harmful air pollutants such as sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides have declined, 60 percent and 43 percent respectively, since 1978. Both compounds can lead to respiratory issues and sulfur dioxide can contribute to acid rain. These health effects can be especially harmful to children, the elderly, those with lungs diseases, and those who exercise outdoors.

In 1978, 13 Iowa counties recorded air pollution levels that exceeded National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) compared to just two counties in 2015: Muscatine and Pottawattamie. Council Bluffs, the county seat in Pottawattamie County, exceeded NAAQS standards for lead particles in the air in 2010 and 2012 but those levels were below the NAAQS standards from 2013 to January of 2016. Muscatine, the county seat in Muscatine County, experienced unsafe levels of fine particulate matter in the air in 2009 and 2010 but those levels have since declined. Additionally, data in Muscatine showed excessive levels of sulfur dioxide in 2008 and 2010 but levels have also declined since 2010.

The reductions in harmful air pollutants across the state has in part been attributed to newer, more efficient equipment and technology. Despite the overall improvements in Iowa’s air quality, the state’s productivity, population, and travel miles have increased since 1978, all of which can be potential sources contributing to air pollution.

Study: More precise fertilizer application will help combat climate change


Nick Fetty | June 11, 2014
Photo via eutrophication&hypoxia; Flickr
Photo via Lynn Betts; Flickr

Farmers can help to combat climate change by applying more precise amounts of nitrogen fertilizer to fields, according to a recent study by researchers at Michigan State University.

The study – published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – used data from around the world to conclude that emissions from nitrogen oxide – a byproduct of nitrogen fertilizer – contribute to greenhouse gases more than previously expected when application of fertilizer exceeds crop needs. Nitrogen emissions caused by humans has increased significantly in recent years much of what can be attributed to increased nitrogen fertilizer use. Not only will more precise amounts of fertilizer protect the environment but it will also help to save farmers money.

Check out this article about this study published today by R&D.

Also to learn more about the science behind nitrogen fertilizers check out this guide compiled by the Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences.