Air Pollution Caused By Corn Production Adds to Mortality Rate in US

A new study establishes that environmental damage caused by corn production results in 4,300 premature deaths annually in the United States, representing a monetized cost of $39 billion. (Image: antoniohigar via Pixabay)

A new study establishes that environmental damage and air pollution caused by corn production results in 4,300 premature deaths annually in the United States, representing a monetized cost of $39 billion. The paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Sustainability, presents how researchers have estimated for the first time the health damages caused by corn production using detailed information on pollution emissions, pollution transport by wind, and human exposure to increased air pollution levels.

Corn is a key agricultural crop used for animal feed, ethanol biofuel, and human consumption.The study also shows how the damage to human health of producing a bushel of corn differs from region to region and how, in some areas, the health damages of corn production are greater than its market price. Lead researcher Jason Hill, associate professor at the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, said:

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Receive selected content straight into your inbox.

Researchers, including UMN professors Stephen Polasky, applied economics; Timothy Smith, bioproducts and biosystems engineering; David Tilman, College of Biological Sciences; teaching assistant professor Natalie Hunt, and doctoral graduate student Sumil Thakrar, bioproducts and biosystems engineering; and scientists at other institutions, used county-level data on agricultural practices and productivity to develop a spatially explicit life-cycle-emissions inventory for corn.

Poor air quality due to corn production leads to premature deaths

The data show that reduced air quality resulting from corn production is associated with the premature deaths annually in the United States, with estimated damages in monetary terms of $39 billion. This uses a value from the U.S. EPA of $9 million for each death avoided.

Increased concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are driven by emissions of ammonia — a PM2.5 precursor — that result from nitrogen fertilizer use. Average health damages from reduced air quality are $3.07 per bushel (56.5 lbs.) of corn, which is 62 percent of the $4.95 per bushel average corn market price of the last decade.

This paper also estimates life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of corn production, finding total climate change damages of $4.9 billion, or $0.38 per bushel of corn. Hill said:

In addition to changing the fertilizer type and application method, the study’s results suggest potential benefits from strategic interventions in corn production, including improved nitrogen use efficiency, switching to crops requiring less fertilizer, and changing the location where corn is grown.

Aware that changes in practices can take time and planning, Hill suggests farmers could be offered incentives to switch to crops that demand less applied nitrogen while still offering market and nutritional benefits. Hill said:

Provided by: University of Minnesota [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest

Recommended Stories

Artificial intelligence.

The Emergence of Artificial Intelligence and Its Benefit to Humanity

Every human has an innate nature that always seeks something that can improve everyone’s life ...

A martial artist practicing kung fu.

The Wisdom Behind Chinese Martial Arts

There is wisdom in Chinese martial arts. If you’ve always been curious about kung fu ...

A large family sharing dinner.

Intuitive or Intentional Eating: Which Works Best for You?

Eating is an essential aspect of human existence. Not only is it necessary for people ...

Decluttering.

4 Reasons Why Decluttering Will Improve Your Mind, Body, and Soul

You’re not the only one who feels stressed out by a messy house, and the ...

Young woman looking longingly at chocolate pastries.

Is the Incentive for Emotional Eating the Same as for Binge Eating?

Finding comfort in food is quite common these days, and it is called emotional eating. ...

Chinese writing in a wok.

Most assume writing systems get simpler. But 3,600 years of Chinese writing show it’s getting increasingly complex

At this very moment, the words you are reading are entering your mind at the ...

The Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Station.

Fukushima Aftermath: Japan Set to Release Treated Radioactive Water into the Ocean

A top government spokesperson recently announced that Japan is taking steps toward discharging more than ...

The Oura ring.

How the Oura Ring Can Upgrade Your Health?

If you’ve heard about the Oura ring before, you aren’t the only one. This ring ...

A nuclear power plant.

Nuclear Fuel Alternatives After Fukushima Have Challenges Ahead

After the Fukushima disaster, research at The University of Manchester suggests that the preferred candidate ...

Send this to a friend