Air pollution risk in dense farming areas

A new study from the Netherlands shows that the air in heavily agricultural areas can be as risky to breathe as in traffic-choked cities. The research was released as a part of the Healthy Lungs for Life campaign and was presented at the European Respiratory Society’s International Congress in London in September.

The Dutch study is one of the first to use physical health tests to measure the health effect on residents due to living in close proximity to livestock holdings. As many as 2,500 adults participated in the research. They were all living in rural areas in the Netherlands and it was shown that those living within one kilometre of 15 or more farms had five per cent lower lung function. Five per cent may not sound much, but the results are very significant, especially for those who already have reduced lung function.

The research also found that the lung function of the test participants got worse if the concentration of ammonia in the air was higher. This effect was seen in both healthy adults and those with existing respiratory conditions.

It has already been proven, in many previous studies, that agriculture is one of the major culprits regarding air pollution, and ammonia from animals is one of the main contributors. According to the researchers the effects of air pollution in rural areas are as harmful as in urban areas. It is therefore equally important that policy makers work harder to combat both agricultural emissions and urban air pollution. The researchers also highlight the importance of much better monitoring of intensive farming and the need to apply the same strict pollution laws as in other industries. Some countries have more densely populated areas near livestock farming than others, but air pollution caused by ammonia is a large-scale problem that affects everyone.

Source : European Lung Foundation press release, 20 September 2016 (www.europeanlung.org)

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