Kids Breathe Easier When Trees Eat Smog
September 16, 2014
Portland citizens could save $7 million annually by planting more trees, according to researchers at Portland State University. The team of biologists, environmental scientists, and urban planners developed a new methodology that could help municipalities maximize the health effects of urban greenery.
The researchers first developed a novel way to model highly localized pollution levels, noting that people living within 200 m (0.12 miles) of major roadways are at much higher risk for asthma and other respiratory problems. (Current methods of modeling air-pollution levels capture a much larger radius, typically greater than 10 km, or 6.2 miles.) By accurately predicting where pollutants concentrate, they argue, urban planners will be able to strategize about where mitigation is needed.
In the course of this work, the scientists discovered dramatic reductions in expected pollution levels in areas with high concentrations of trees. The team drew on epidemiological research to arrive at the $7 million projected savings for Portland but added that their work should be applicable everywhere.
“Due to the geographic variation in the distribution of air pollutants in a city, the health impacts are not uniform and tend to be increasingly borne by susceptible and socially disadvantaged urban populations,” they note. “Our study demonstrates the need to monitor or model air pollutants at a highly local scale in order to correctly assess the health impacts of urban air pollutants and to address social equity issues.”