Harvesting Season: How Pesticides Create Air Pollution

Pesticides and air quality

When you think about farms, do you think they have better air quality than the city? Many people do. In reality, air quality on farms can be just as harmful as in the city due to a range of factors associated with typical farming processes.  

While agriculture is essential for sustaining our global population, it's also a significant contributor to air pollution. One often overlooked factor in this equation is the use of pesticides, which play a major role in deteriorating air quality.  

So, let's take a quick look at agriculture and air pollution and learn what farms can do to reduce the impact of pesticides on air quality.  

Types of Air Pollutants on Farms  

Modern agricultural practices come with their own set of environmental challenges, including air pollution. Farm machinery, such as tractors and combines, emit harmful air pollutants into the atmosphere.

Livestock farming also releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. However, one of the most significant contributors to agricultural air pollution is the use of pesticides. 

Effects of Pesticides on Air Pollution  

Pesticides are substances designed to control or eliminate pests that can harm crops. They have undoubtedly played a crucial role in boosting agricultural productivity and ensuring food security. However, their use comes with many unintended consequences, including air pollution. These effects can contribute to deteriorating air quality and have environmental and human health consequences. 

  1. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): VOCs are chemicals that can easily vaporize into the air. Many pesticides contain VOCs, which are released into the atmosphere during and after application. These compounds can contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, a major component of smog, which can adversely affect respiratory health and the environment. 
  2. Particulate Matter (PM): Pesticides can also generate particulate matter (PM) when applied as sprays or dusts. When inhaled, PM can penetrate the respiratory system, causing health issues. 
  3. Chemical Reactions in the Atmosphere: Some pesticides can undergo chemical reactions in the atmosphere, forming secondary pollutants. These secondary pollutants further contribute to air pollution and may include compounds harmful to human health and the environment.
  4. Agricultural DriftPesticide drift occurs when pesticides are carried by wind or other factors away from the intended target area during application. This drift can result in the unintended release of pesticides into the surrounding air, soil, and water bodies, further contributing to air pollution. 

It's important to note that the specific effects of pesticides on air quality can vary depending on the type of pesticide used, application methods, weather conditions, and local environmental factors. 

Nonetheless, these studies highlight the potential for pesticides to contribute to air pollution, making it a significant concern in agricultural practices and environmental management. 

Why Farms Need Air Quality Monitoring  

To address the issue of air pollution in agriculture, it's crucial to implement air quality monitoring systems on farms. By regularly monitoring air quality, farmers can make informed decisions about pesticide application and take steps to mitigate air pollution in their communities. 

Without air quality monitors, there is simply not enough data to gather insights into the levels of air pollution, like particulate matter. Once that issue is addressed, we can also work together to find solutions to reduce agricultural air pollution. 

Tips to Reduce Air Pollution on Farms 

Reducing air pollution on farms is essential for safeguarding the environment and the health of farmworkers and nearby communities. Here are some tips to help farmers and agricultural stakeholders mitigate air pollution from agricultural activities: 

  • Implement Integrated Pest Management (IPM): Pest Management focuses on using a combination of strategies, such as biological control, crop rotation, and monitoring, to manage pests more sustainably and reduce the use of chemical pesticides. 
  • Choose Low-VOC Pesticides: When pesticide use is necessary, select products with lower levels of VOCs to reduce the release of these compounds into the air. 
  • Calibrate Equipment Regularly: Calibrate spraying and application equipment regularly to ensure accurate delivery of pesticides and fertilizers. Proper calibration minimizes excess product release. Additionally, ensure that farm machinery, including tractors and vehicles, is well-maintained to reduce emissions of air pollutants. 
  • Minimize Drift: Pay close attention to weather conditions, wind speed, and wind direction before applying pesticides. Avoid spraying on windy days and use drift-reducing nozzles and equipment modifications to minimize drift. 
  • Cover Manure and Compost: Covering manure and compost storage areas can help reduce ammonia emissions and other air pollutants. 
  • Control Dust Levels: Use dust control measures, like planting cover crops or installing windbreaks, to prevent dust emissions from fields and roads. 
  • Invest in Clean Energy Sources: Finally, consider transitioning to clean energy sources, such as solar panels or wind turbines, to power farm operations and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

To summarize, continuing the conversation about agriculture and air pollution in your local communities is essential. Maintain open communication with neighboring communities to address concerns, share information, and collaborate on pollution reduction initiatives. 

Worried About Air Quality?    

Monitor the Particulate Matter levels around the world with our free, real-time PurpleAir Map, or join PurpleAir’s mission to make air quality data accessible to everyone by investing in an air quality monitor for your home. Together, we can be informed and make changes in our daily habits and the community to improve air quality.