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Environ Sci Technol. 2014 Jan 21;48(2):903-8. doi: 10.1021/es4034793. Epub 2014 Jan 8.

Hidden cost of U.S. agricultural exports: particulate matter from ammonia emissions.

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School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University , Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, United States.


We use a model of agricultural sources of ammonia (NH3) coupled to a chemical transport model to estimate the impact of U.S. food export on particulate matter concentrations (PM2.5). We find that food export accounts for 11% of total U.S. NH3 emissions (13% of agricultural emissions) and that it increases the population-weighted exposure of the U.S. population to PM2.5 by 0.36 μg m(-3) on average. Our estimate is sensitive to the proper representation of the impact of NH3 on ammonium nitrate, which reflects the interplay between agricultural (NH3) and combustion emissions (NO, SO2). Eliminating NH3 emissions from food export would achieve greater health benefits than the reduction of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for PM2.5 from 15 to 12 μg m(-3). Valuation of the increased premature mortality associated with PM2.5 from food export (36 billion US$ (2006) per year) amounts to 50% of the gross food export value. Livestock operations in densely populated areas have particularly large health costs. Decreasing SO2 and NOx emissions will indirectly reduce health impact of food export as an ancillary benefit.

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