Ozone, acid rain and other air pollutants are causing $5 billion in damage to Midwest farm crops and decimating larger areas of high-elevation forests on both the East and West Coasts, a new study released Thursday said.
The report by the World Resources Institute said while publicity has focused on acid rain damage to trees in the Northeast and Canada, the problem was much larger in scope, with forests and crops nationwide being stunted by ozone, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons - pollutants usually associated with cities."In the West, sensitive pines are dying; throughout the Midwest, crop productivity is being impaired; and in the East, spruce, fir, maple, white and pine are either dying outright or growing abnormally slowly," said the report, entitled "Ill Winds: Airborne Pollution's Toll on Trees and Crops."
"In short, from one coast to the other, significant vegetative injury is occurring and much of it has been shown to result from air pollution."
The authors of the study said their findings made it clear that all sections of the nation - not just the Northeast - would benefit from action by Congress to tighten controls on emissions from factories, power plant and motor vehicles.
Mohamed El-Ashry, vice president of the World Resources Institute, noted the failure of Congress to enact acid rain control legislation has been partly blamed on "the Midwest's reluctance to reduce emissions primarily for the benefit of New England.
"Recognizing that air pollution problems are national in scope - plaguing East, Midwest and West - there are no losers in clean air efforts," he told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Dr. James MacKenzie, senior associate with the World Resources Institute, said scientific evidence was "unambiguous" that air pollutants were a contributing factor to crop and forest damage.
"Acid rain and ozone levels are high where tree and crop damages are occurring," he said.
For example, he said that in the East tree die-off was greatest on Appalachian Mountain peaks - the same areas where cloud moisture was the most acidic, at its worst equalling the acidity of lemon juice.
The report said Agriculture Department studies have shown that ozone also was the main pollutant affecting crops, with yield, growth and crop quality falling off as ozone levels reach elevated levels.