Earlier this year, Care2′s Judy Molland reported on a terrible tragedy made worse by China’s air pollution problem. The pollution is so dense that a factory fire burned out of control for three hours before anyone noticed. No wonder some are calling it ”Airpocalypse.”
In January’s early days, the pollution became so bad that NASA could see it from space, and authorities acknowledged that the air (you know, that stuff we need to survive?) was literally toxic to human health. Beijing residents were ordered to stay inside for almost an entire week. But what about the things that can’t be kept inside?
New research shows that the toxic air isn’t only dangerous for life in cities. Rural plants, even food crops, are being attacked by the low air quality, adding another dimension of risk to this growing issue.
“In the last 50 years there has been a 16-fold increase in ozone pollution” in the Beijing area, Hanqin Tian told Discovery News. Tian studies the effects of China’s pollution and climate change on plants at Auburn University in Alabama. He says that the influx of pollutants, including sulfur and nitrogen compounds, is expanding into the countryside where it could have a fatal effect on rural plant life.
According to the EPA, ground level or “bad” ozone is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. As Tian has discovered in the country where both sunlight and now nitrogen are available in abundance, resulting ozone damages the pores on leaves responsible for regulating how much water transpires from the plant. This in turn impacts water uptake and regional groundwater and surface water supplies.
“You could affect the water cycle,” said Tian. “That’s probably not such a good thing in a changing climate and in northern China, where droughts have become a chronic problem,” he added.
Discovery News reports that “in studies of the long-term productivity of plants, Tian Hanqin and some of his colleagues show that ozone pollution, along with climate change, has been lowering plant productivity in China, which reduces the amount of carbon and other pollutants that the plants can absorb to combat all the emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.”
Are you beginning to see the vicious cycle here?
China’s population is already vast and continues to grow at a rapid rate. All of those people have bellies that need to be filled. The last thing China needs is increased difficulty growing food, but that’s just what could happen if they can’t get a handle on their pollution problem.
Image via Thinkstock
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