How does air pollution affect food?

In this blog post, we will discuss “How does air pollution affect food?” Firstly, the article will talk about the basics of air pollution. Then, the article will discuss the impact of food production on air quality. In addition, it will emphasize the effects of air pollution on the food you eat. In the end, the article will provide detailed solutions to mitigate air pollution.

How does air pollution affect food?

Air pollution severely affects the environment in multiple ways. Air pollution impacts human health and generates insecurity in food production. Some of the pollutants which affect the crops are as follows:

  • Particulate Matter
  • Ground-level ozone
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Ammonia
  • Carbon monoxide

First, let’s talk about the basics of air pollution.

What is air pollution?

The introduction of harmful agents into the atmosphere is known as air pollution. The toxic agents are known as pollutants. These pollutants are derived from natural and human activities, and they can be chemical or biological.

Major pollutants present in the air are particulate matter (PM), ground-level ozone (O3), NO2, SO2, and CO. Air also has lead, allergens, bacteria, viruses and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Besides climate change, air pollution has become a significant environmental risk to human health. 

What is AQI, and what levels make it unhealthy?

WHO has set up the air quality guidelines to regulate the emissions; however, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has calculated its own AQI to safeguard the public health of Americans. 

Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has determined the air quality index (AQI) to know the air quality you inhale. The table given below will show how the air quality index looks like.

Air Quality Index (AQI)Levels of Health Concern
(When the AQI is in this range)(air quality conditions are)
0 to 50Good           
51 to 100Moderate
101 to 150Unhealthy for Sensitive group
151 to 200Unhealthy
201 to 300Very Unhealthy
301 to 500Hazardous

The primary purpose of AQI is to inform residents about the impact of local air quality on their health. The Environment Protection Agency calculates the AQI for five major pollutants: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

The meaning of the Air quality index as mentioned earlier categories are as follows:

Meaning
Air quality is considered satisfactory; air pollution is of little or no risk.
Air quality is acceptable; some pollutants present in the air might be dangerous for a minority of people who are very sensitive to air pollution.
Members of sensitive groups may get ill effects. However, the general public is likely not to get affected.
This air quality level can pose a threat to everyone. However, members of sensitive people may experience more severe effects.
Emergency level of air quality; Entire population might be affected
Health alert: Every person breathing such air quality may get serious health issues.

 Thus, it is clear that excluding the first two levels are relatively good to venture out and to do various outdoor activities. However, the last three levels will give you or other adverse effects by inhaling dirty air.

Air pollution has shaken the balance of our ecosystem. Since the stone age, humankind has always strived hard to achieve stability and comfort in their life. Finally, we succeeded, which led to the industrial revolution, followed by urbanization and much-needed changes in the lifestyle.

However, in the process of progression, somewhere we left behind the great values of nature, we forgot the support and symbiotic existence of the environment. While human inventions, no doubt, have always helped us to save our lives, it has also given birth to much inevitable stuff. One such thing is air pollution.

Humans have tremendously exploited natural resources such as fossil fuels in the constant chase of becoming the best in every term and during the development of energy and manufacturing sectors. But, unfortunately, such combustion of fossil fuels for various purposes such as transport and energy releases lots of toxic gaseous and solid contaminants such as carbon monoxide, noxious gases and particulate matter. 

The ever-growing menace of air pollution has also created other challenges such as global warming, greenhouse effect and climate change. These challenges have affected the whole world greatly.

Let’s find out the relation between air pollution and food.

How does food production affect air quality?

The agriculture and livestock sector is one of the significant contributors to ammonia pollution. This is because many agricultural activities generate nitrogen compounds. From the last 70 years, global ammonia emissions have approximately doubled from 23 to 60 teragrams per year. One telegram equals 1 billion kilograms or 2.2 billion pounds on the metric scale.

Nitrogen is undoubtedly highly beneficial to plant development as it is a crucial plant nutrient. Also, the nutrient cycle is necessary for the proper functioning of nature. However, the overabundance of nitrogen and ammonia can create issues in the ecosystem. Nitrogen available in animal excreta and over usage of fertilizers can transform this nitrogen into gaseous ammonia. As per recent studies, the agricultural sector in US and Canada contributes to more than three-fourths of all ammonia emissions.

Nitrogen compounds produced by agricultural activities affect soil quality. The affected soil structure and composition eventually affect plant productivity. Besides, the growing trade of farm products has significantly amounted to air pollution. Air pollution due to agriculture also affects unevenly in the countries. The producing countries face more air pollution problems than the other dependent countries. 

Food production and air pollution are the two factors trapped in a vicious loop. While food production prominently contributes to air pollution, poor air quality can generate food insecurity. Let’s find out how.

How does poor air quality affect food?

Like humans, poor quality also affects crops and other plants inside out. However, unlike us all, these green friends can’t travel places to avoid air pollution; they are fixed organisms and face the heat of all air pollution. There is ample evidence that shows that food production is severely affected due to polluted air. These harmful contaminants penetrate the plant structure. This results in the impairment in their overall development.

Various changes in the physiological characteristics depend upon the pollutant concentrations and the nature of pollutants. However, such drastic alterations due to air pollution can immediately affect the plant-insect relationships. The changes in the vegetative crops can also create a danger to human health and can harm many other food chains.

The leaves of the crops first and foremost absorb the airborne pollutants coming from the various sources, and then little penetration of the contaminants occurs in the stem and trunk. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, pollutants such as O3 and NOx affect the metabolic activities of the leaves and affect the net carbon fixation of the plant canopy. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has stated that originators of ozone, namely nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds, are mainly responsible for food security.

Ozone, alone or combined with sulphur or particulates, has a destructive ability. When ozone comes in contact with the leaves, it causes chlorosis. Chlorosis is nothing but an abnormal yellowing of leaves. Other pollutants such as black carbon, sulphur dioxide, fluorides, peroxy acyl nitrate and nitrogen oxides also damage various ways.

The visible signs of damage are necrotic lesions and chlorosis. Chlorosis also includes discolouration (yellow leaves), reddening, bronzing and mottling. This results in a deficiency of chlorophyll, which means the plant reduces its ability to make food and energy. Ozone interaction with the leaves thus prevents photosynthesis. Therefore, this affects the crop yielding and quality of food.

Chemical cocktails in the atmosphere create ozone holes in it. Holes in the upper atmosphere gives passage to excess ultraviolet light. When in contact with the green cover, these extra ultraviolet lights lead to its damage. Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced from car exhaust emissions, and some food crops drop their leaves when wholly exposed to them.

Further, crops and fruit yielding trees can get stressed due to air pollution. A stressed plant will have difficulty producing flowers. The plant will use all the nutrients and resources to fight air pollution and survival. Many botanists have pointed out that plants exposed to heavy vehicular emissions will delay flowering as they battle the emissions.

Drastic alterations due to air pollution can immediately affect the plant-insect relationships. The reporters have warned that the air pollutants break down plan-emitted scent molecules. This can affect insect pollinators searching for their food. In addition, these odour modified by the pollution plays with the bees’ brains and makes them confused, thus affecting the pollination process. A disturbed pollination process will lead to an irregular pattern of food production.

Acid deposition causes alteration in the nutritional value of soil. In addition, air pollutants such as heavy metals get deposited in the ground. These contaminants affect the root functioning. As a result, plant growth is hampered. Moreover, many botanists have observed that acidic conditions gather a lot of aluminium ions in the soil. Such ions accumulation damages the root systems and prevents the consumption of significant nutrients and ions.  

Agricultural experts have observed that ozone has caused considerable global crop losses. Around 6 to 16% of soy, 7 to 12% wheat and 3 to 5% maize are lost globally due to air pollution. Researchers have further found that some crops are more vulnerable than others to ozone levels. The most susceptible crops are wheat and soybean, whereas rice, potato, and maize are moderately sensitive to ozone pollution. In addition, the studies found out that barley is the most ozone resistant crop. However, the most susceptible crops are staple foods for most of the world’s population.

Besides agriculture, pisciculture is also impacted due to hazardous chemicals. Pisciculture is also known as fish farming. Fish are affected due to nutrient pollution or nutrient run-off from lands and farmlands. Such persistent nutrient run-off from lands can cause “dead zones”. This means that air pollution can degrade fish habitats such as corals, seaweeds and mangroves. Substantial loss of habitat can endanger various fish species, susceptible ones, because of over-fishing and climate change. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe stated that aquatic animals and fisheries generate the majority of jobs for many people worldwide.

The world is already facing many challenges and unrest, and global food insecurity adds more burden to these issues. Global food insecurity will lead to mass hunger and malnutrition of infants and children. In addition, the deprived quality of food and improper nourishment will ultimately weaken the immune system of animals and other animals.

Therefore, the animals will be more prone to health complications and anaemic conditions. Thus, reducing air pollution can secure food production. On a global level, organizations such as United Nations and World Bank are protecting crops from the effects of ever-growing air pollution. For example, the International Cooperative Programme on Effects of Air Pollution on Natural Vegetation and Crops examines the impacts of airborne pollutants on crops. 

In addition, the  International Cooperative Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of the Effects of Air Pollution on Rivers and Lakes evaluates the intensity and extent of acidification of surface waters, which might influence the oceans and affect habitat for fish. Moreover, the Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen helps coordinate air pollution policies on nitrogen in terms of the nitrogen cycle. They support these policies by using technical and scientific information. Such measures will help in boosting sustainable agriculture.

Further, I will elaborate on detailed solutions to mitigate air pollution.

   What can I do to protect myself from air pollution?

I will elaborate on some of the measures to protect yourself from air pollution.

Personal Hygiene

You can also fight the effects of air pollution by maintaining personal hygiene:

  • You can cut your nails short to avoid the accumulation of dirt. 
  • You can also practice mouth gargling after coming home to free your mouth from unwanted guests.
  • You can also brush twice a day to keep airborne infections at bay.
  • You can also take steam therapy at home to cleanse your lungs.

Quit Smoking

Smoking cigarettes, hookahs (shisha), electric vape or any other types of cigars are not at all suitable for your health. It’s best to stop smoking. Active and passive smoking provides the direct entry of harmful pollutants into your body. This causes the risk to your respiration and other organs dependent on it. 

Physical Exercise 

Physical activities have many benefits to your body. It not only improves your stamina and immunity levels but also helps to increase your lung capacity. Yoga, sanas, swimming, running, cycling, brisk walking and dancing are some of the best forms of exercise to improve your health.

Breathing Exercise 

The majority of people in the world don’t breathe properly. However, correct breathing techniques can keep illnesses due to air pollution at bay. A pranayama is a form of yoga asana which helps to improve breathing methods and lung functionality.

Some of the pranayama types that help you fight air pollution are Kapalbhati, Anulom Vilom, Chandra Nadi, Surya Nadi and Bhastrika. It is strongly recommended to learn this art of breath from a well-certified yoga trainer. 

You can also increase your lung muscles by simply taking a deep breath and holding it for a count of 10. Then, slowly breathe out the air. If you can keep your breath for a longer time, then you have good lungs health.

Good diet 

Always go for a well-balanced diet to remain fit and strong. Consistent eating of junk and fast food will increase the risk of obesity and other diseases. In addition, such people are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of air pollution. Instead, add more fresh veggies and fruits to your diet. Also, you can consume less meat to minimise carbon footprints.

You can also add anti-inflammatory foods as these types of food help to cleanse your lungs effectively. Anti-inflammatory foods which I recommend are: 

Immunity booster drinks

You can do your immunity booster drinks by using readily available items in your kitchen. Immunity booster drinks help to cleanse your lungs. Some of the DIY immunity booster drinks are as follows:

  • Take a glass of warm white milk. Add half a teaspoon of turmeric powder to it. Also, add two strands of saffron to it. Drink it at night before sleeping. You will get good sleep, and you will be relieved from chest congestion. 
  • Boil water by adding half cinnamon stick. Drink the spice-infused water once a day. Your sinuses would be cleared up. 
  • Buy an excellent green tea. Prepare a green tea by following the packet instructions. Have it whenever you feel irritation in your throat. 
  • Take some crushed 1 or 2 peppercorns, a half-inch of a blade of lemongrass and 1 inch of grated ginger and half a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Add everything in one glass of boiling water and reduce it to half a glass. Drink two tablespoons of this spice-infused warm water every after three hours. Adding honey is optional. 
  • You can also drink warm water and add honey if you want. Honey helps to relieve throat irritation.

Use Mask

Mask can prevent you from inhaling the polluted air. You would be able to work in contaminated areas without any fear of allergy infections and stress. 

Masks I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
BASE CAMP CROSSDUST MASKEAPI Filter Technology & Advanced NanotechnologyUser FriendlyMore Durable Six layers face maskFilter materials of the dust mask: Double-Layer Melt-blown with Electrostatic Adsorption Performance, Activated carbon, Non-woven Polypropylene
NIOSH approved N95 maskFour layers mask Flexible nose pad, dual strapsDisposable maskEasy to breathe
BASE CAMP Reusable Cloth Face MaskThree layers mask; 100% cotton Skin-friendly and breathablePocket to add additional filterReusable Mask

How can I individually reduce air pollution?

You can always try your level best to minimise air pollution. The following are the methods to reduce air pollution at an individual level.

Plant Trees

Encourage tree plantation drives amongst the communities. You can be a green saviour of your region. Trees are the natural air purifiers of the environment, and it supplies us with clean air.

Municipal councils or the local authorities can develop urban forests to increase the green cover of the locality. They can also plan to create vertical green walls to improve oxygen levels of the region naturally. But don’t forget to plant only indigenous trees. 

Human/ religious celebrations in eco-friendly ways 

Nowadays, many couples celebrate gender (of their baby) revealing parties by bursting firecrackers. But, unfortunately, these firecrackers can transform into massive wildfires if they are burst near trees.

Thus, you can celebrate such celebrations by planting trees in your nearby barren land. Bursting firecrackers on any religious, festive or personal occasion are only going to harm your loved ones. 

You can also celebrate Christmas by not cutting Christmas Trees. Instead, you can buy artificial ones and use them in the coming years too.

Discourage Plastic

Single-use plastic has been one of the major concerns in the environment. Plastic pollution indirectly contributes to the degradation of air quality. Plastic, when burned, releases various toxic gases such as dioxins into the air.

Encourage alternative use of the plastic product. For example, you can wear a cloth bag for shopping. You can also carry your travel cutlery set to a restaurant. Additionally, you can take your water bottle instead of purchasing a packaged drinking water bottle every time.

Use of public transportation 

Increase the use of public transport to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion. You can also try carpooling or the cab sharing option. Then, you can also use bicycles instead of scooters. Lastly, you can always opt for walking a shorter distance. 

Alternative use of fossil fuel

It would be best to try switching to other fuel alternatives. For example, don’t use wood for the fireplace. Instead, you can wear multiple layers of clothes for warmth. In this way, you can conserve energy. Additionally, you can also install solar panels on house roofs to convert solar energy into electricity. 

You can also buy electric and hybrid vehicles to minimise tailpipe emissions. Finally, propose or discuss a plan with your mayor or any relevant local authority to promote your region’s renewable energy sector.

Reduction of personal carbon footprints

You can also keep a check on your carbon footprints. For example, you can delete unwanted photos, videos or emails from clouds and email boxes as and when possible. Unfortunately, this unwanted stuff takes a lot of energy, which indirectly contributes to air pollution.

You can also switch off the lights and electrical appliances of the vacant rooms. Try buying local products instead of imported ones. Be vocal about them. You can also discover your own country rather than travelling to different ones.

Create Awareness

Air pollution is unpredictable; air pollution in your vicinity can affect people living in Asia and vice-a-versa. However, you can create public awareness about air pollution amongst your community by teaching and interacting with your kids about the importance of good air. 

Educate youth by telling them the ill effects of poor air quality. Then, let your country’s future know that they deserve a better place to live!

How can the local authorities improve the air quality of your region?

You can always observe the changes happening in your surrounding nature. If you experience bad air quality or any activities producing air pollution, you can always concern relevant local authorities or the mayor.

Here are some methods which local authorities can do.

Proper disposal of waste 

Improper solid waste management of an area is an invitation to many diseases and infections. In addition, burning solid waste in public can cause air pollution, although such practices are rare in the US. 

The wastes are mainly disposed of in the engineered landfills and recycled before final disposal to landfills and waste incinerators. 

In addition, waste incinerators help to convert waste into energy.

However, many researchers have claimed that gasification technology or waste-to-energy technology may release harmful gaseous contaminants. Thus, it is necessary that waste collectors rigorously segregate the waste before sending it to waste incinerators. 

The best solution is to minimise waste at a personal level. Statistically, 70% of the waste generated can be recycled effectively. Thus, strive to recycle your waste at a personal level as much as possible.

Reducing air pollution from agriculture

Stubble burning is still practised in some parts of the US. This event contributes to the degradation of air. Local authorities can help farmers convert this waste into cattle fodder or be transformed into pellets as fuel. In addition, farmers should stop the usage of harmful pesticides or fertilisers to decrease air pollution.

How can I reduce indoor air pollution?

Maintaining household or indoor hygiene

You can decrease poor air quality by adequately maintaining indoor hygiene. For example, you can frequently clean your cupboards and open decks to avoid an accumulation of dust particles. You can then vacuum your carpets and sofas at least twice a week. 

Make sure your doggies and cats are well-groomed. Use chimneys and exhaust fans in kitchens. You can also install an exhaust fan in washrooms. Always make sure you are keeping your house well ventilated. 

Keep doors and windows open when possible. Maintain the health of electric appliances such as heaters, humidifiers, AC, fans, air ducts and so on at regular intervals of the year. Avoid overuse of strong perfumes or strong scented candles indoors. You can additionally use indoor plants to make your indoors more lively and fresh.

Indoor plants

Indoor plants do the same work as outdoor ones- they help to purify indoor air naturally. These indoor plants are also easy to maintain.

The indoor plants which I recommend are as follows: 

Air purifiers

Air purifiers help to improve indoor air quality. The risk of getting air pollution-related diseases decreases due to the use of air purifiers. Air purifiers having good HEPA filters do an adequate job of filtering pollutants.

Air Purifiers I recommend are as follows:

NameWhy I recommend it
Blueair Pro XL Air Purifier99.7% of airborne pollutants such as mould, allergens, smoke particles and pollens are captured. 
AIRMEGA 400SReduction of 99.97% of particulates of 0.3 microns. Also responsible for reducing more than 99% of VOCs, NH3 and CH3CHO.Washable and permanent pre-filters are available 
Blueair Pure 121Includes 3-part filtration system. Captures 99% of common airborne PM 2.5 pollutants such as allergens, odours, smoke, mould spores, dust mites and pet dander.An activated carbon filter removes common odours caused by smoke, pets, and gases (VOCs) and smoke caused by wildfires.

Humidifiers

The humidity levels in the office should be maintained between 30 and 50% in the office. This range helps to keep dust mites, mould and other allergens under control. In addition, when AC or heater makes the air in the room dry, humidifiers can maintain correct humidity levels.

Humidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Amazon Basics Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier 4 litre of tank capacityAuto shut-off feature and 12 or 24-hour timer settingsIt can be used in both seasons
MOVTIP HumidifierPortable Mini-humidifier500 ml capacity, still produces longer mistsEasy to operate
LEVOIT HumidifierIt can be used for both seasons6 litres of capacity Easy to clean and has a remote control

Dehumidifiers 

Dehumidifiers also work similarly to humidifiers. It controls the high levels of humidity in the office.

Dehumidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Pro Breeze DehumidifierCan extract 50 pints of moisture a dayEnergy-saving auto-off systemBuilt-in Humidity sensor
HOmeLabs DehumidifierEliminates moistness, odour controllerEasy to cleanRemovable water tank
TCL Portable Dehumidifier20 pints of moisture removed per dayIt can be operated at low temperatures tooEasy to maintain

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

How does air pollution affect nature?

Can Poor Air Quality Cause Sore Throat?

Can Poor Air Quality Cause Sinus Issues?

Conclusion

In this blog post, we discussed “How does air pollution affect food?” Firstly, the article talked about the basics of air pollution. Then, the article discussed the impact of food production on air quality. In addition, it emphasized the effects of air pollution on the food you eat. In the end, the article provided detailed solutions to mitigate air pollution.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How does air pollution affect food?

What are the five disastrous effects of air pollution?

The five disastrous effects of air pollution are:

  • Respiratory and heart ailments in human beings
  • Global Warming
  • Acid Rain
  • Depletion of the ozone layer
  • Food insecurity

What are the primary cause of air pollution and its effect on the environment?

The burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of air pollution. Combustion of fossil fuel is needed in the transportation sector, energy generation, and cooking activities. Such activities release a tremendous amount of carbon monoxide and other toxic pollutants into the atmosphere. These contaminants cause harm to human health, hampers flora and fauna growth, and create food insecurity.

What is the effect of air pollution on animals?

The effect of air pollution on animals consist of:

  • Lung damage
  • Heart ailments
  • Inflammation of eyes and other organs
  • Cancer
  • Congenital disabilities

How does air pollution affect crops?

Air pollution affects crops negatively. Pollutants present in the air, such as O3 and NOx, interfere with the plant’s metabolic activities and mess with carbon fixation by the plant canopy.

What effect does air pollution have on food crops and biodiversity?

Pollutants such as sulphur can result in excess acidification of the water bodies such as lakes and streams. This pollutant can also damage trees and fertile land. In addition, the atmospheric nitrogen can create an imbalance in biodiversity and harm overall plant communities and aquatic life. Moreover, ozone can damage the tree leaves.

How does air pollution affect global warming?

Air pollution also releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This contributes to the greenhouse effect. In addition, the carbon dioxide emitted traps a tremendous amount of heat into the atmosphere. This process results in global warming.

References

Air pollution and food production. UNECE. Available at: https://unece.org/air-pollution-and-food-production

Air Pollution. World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_1

Effect of pollution on plants (and do they help fight pollution?). Conserve Energy Future. Available at: https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/plant-pollution.php

Grahams, A., 2021. How Does Air Pollution Affect Plants?. [online] eHow. Available at https://www.ehow.com/info_7998656_air-pollution-affect-plants.html

Greentumble. 2017. Effect of Pollution on Plants | Greentumble. [online] Available at https://greentumble.com/effect-of-pollution-on-plants/#:~:text=The%20effects%20of%20air%20pollution%20on%20plants%20are,the%20pollution%20include%20carbon%2C%20sulfur%2C%20and%20nitrogen%20oxides.

Hongfa, C., 1989. Air Pollution and Its Effects on Plants in China. The Journal of Applied Ecology, 26(3), p.763.

Plant response to air pollution. EPA. Available at: https://cfpub.epa.gov/si/si_public_record_Report.cfm?Lab=NHEERL&dirEntryId=50437 

Raman, S., 2020. Toxic pollutants in the air are taking a toll on pollinating insects. Research Matters. Available at: https://researchmatters.in/news/toxic-pollutants-air-are-taking-toll-pollinating-insects

What was missing from this post which could have made it better?

Leave a Comment