“Air pollution is a serious problem in the United States. As a young child growing up in suburban Los Angeles, I remember days in which we were not allowed to play outside because of the air quality. Kids in other states had snow days, or so I was led to believe, but we had smog days.
“LA is doing better now. We don’t have smog days anymore. But air pollution still causes quite a bit of problems, both for public health as well as for the cost of health care. It’s been implicated in diseases like bronchitis, asthma, and other respiratory conditions. It impacts the cardiac, vascular, and even neurological systems. It leads to emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and sometimes morality. Kids miss school, adults miss work. Thankfully, we have trees. It is not an exaggeration to say that trees save both lives and money. That’s because they scrub the air of pollution.
The Clean Air Act required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set air quality standards for six “criteria pollutants” that are both common throughout the country and detrimental to human health and welfare: carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, lead, sulfur dioxide, and particular matter, which includes tiny little bits of stuff less than 2.5 microns in diameter. In 2005, particulate matter was implicated in some 130,000 deaths, and 4700 were related to ozone.
“But the truth is, those numbers could have been much worse if not for the trees. That’s according to a new study by U.S. Forest Service researcher David J. Nowak and colleagues, published this week in the journal Environmental Pollution.”
GR: Of course, in the Southwest we can’t plant more trees because the supply of water is dwindling. Over the past year, I’ve had to turn six large native cottonwood trees into wildlife woodpiles. Cottonwoods are phreatophytes whose roots draw on groundwater. If nearby wells withdraw so much groundwater that the water level sinks below the reach of the roots, the trees will die. The demand for groundwater where I live is growing along with the local population. More trees are dying and I will have to cut them this winter.