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Renewed concerns have been raised surrounding farming’s potentially harmful effects to rural air quality. A recent review suggests that farm workers and others exposed to bioaerosol created from intensive farming are increasingly experiencing respiratory problems.

Bioaerosol is made up of tiny particles and dust found in animal houses coming from the animals themselves as well as their food, bedding and waste. Bioaerosol can also include other particles such as fungi, bacteria and pollen. Such exposure, particularly for people living close to or working in intensive livestock farms, has led to respiratory problems such as increased asthma in children.

Other issues surrounding air pollution both in the countryside and cities have also sparked renewed concerns. For example, ammonia from fertiliser and slurry mixes combined with air pollution from traffic and industry based in cities has increased the level of pollution and its potentially harmful effects on individuals and the environment. Studies have shown that 52,000 premature deaths across Europe caused by air pollution could be avoided if ammonia production from farming was halved.

Although agricultural ammonia emissions are not monitored, recent testing and investigations carried out by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism have revealed that ‘three out of eight farms across south of England’ are ammonia pollutant hotspots. ‘These findings provide only a small snapshot across the south of England […], but they highlight the need for mandatory emissions monitoring on farms’ as to reduce the possible negative impacts caused by ammonia on heightened air pollution.

Chemistry and Earth Sciences applicants can reflect on this topic and the recent research revealing the potentially unfavourable impact of agricultural emissions on public health, and consider potential alternatives and other possible routes to use which may minimise the emissions’ impacts.

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