Suffocating Ozone—Policies That Stem Emission of Precursor Chemicals Save Lives and Crops


Research indicates that relatively small reductions in the emissions of the chemicals that contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, like smog, could save lives and improve crop productivity across the U.S.

Nitrogen, volatile organic compounds and sunlight are the three ingredients that form the smog that regularly chokes people and plants, causing tens of thousands of respiratory-related deaths and nearly a billion dollars of crop loss each year. An international team of environment and atmospheric researchers led by Drexel University suggest that hundreds of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars in crops could be saved by implementing policies that would reduce emissions of the key ingredients by just 10 percent.

In their study, which was recently published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the team, led by Shannon Capps, PhD, an assistant professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering, traced the precursors of air pollution over space and time across the U.S. to understand why it forms where it does and what specific steps can be taken to curtail it.

“One of the goals of this study was to show that this modeling system can aid in designing efficient emissions control strategies that consider multiple aims,” Capps said. “We also wanted to know whether the approach to regulating ozone motivates different control strategies than may be optimal for protecting public welfare, like crops.”

The model they created draws on information from previous research that shows where in the United States ground-level ozone concentrations are highest — above safer levels — and what the nitrogen and VOC emissions are like in those areas.

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