Hyper-Invasive Kudzu Worsens Ozone Levels, Air Pollution


photo: Donna Sullivan-Thomson via flickr

Just as much of the US east of Appalachia is in the midst of a serious heat wave comes word that kudzu--that hyper-invasive vine that can grow up to seven feet a week and will cover everything in its path--contributes to the production of ozone. At its worst it can help create seven more days a year when ozone levels exceed air pollution limits. The new report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, details how kudzu releases nitric oxide and isoprene, which are important in making ozone. Researchers discovered that areas which kudzu had invaded had higher levels of ozone than areas which had not yet been colonized.

Environmental Health News summed it up:

Nitric oxide emitted from soil were significantly higher - more than twice as high - in invaded areas as in uninvaded areas. The soil samples from areas with kudzu also had increased nitrogen cycling rates. Nitrogen cycling rates describe the speed at which nitrogen is transferred from the plant to the soil and from the soil back and forth to the ecosystem. Nitrogen mineralization and nitrification, both of which are important steps in the nitrogen cycle in soil, were also increased in areas invaded by kudzu.According to the computer model, the most extreme case of widespread kudzu growing over nonurban and nonagricultural soil would result in a greater than 25 percent increase in nitric oxide emissions from soil.


Kudzu bloom, photo: Clinton Steeds via flickr

As for the effects of high levels of ozone on human health, here's what the EPA wrote in its latest poor air quality advisory:

Exposure to elevated ozone levels can cause serious breathing problems, aggravate asthma and other pre-existing lung diseases, and make people more susceptible to respiratory infection. When smog levels are elevated, people should refrain from strenuous outdoor activity, especially sensitive populations such as children and adults with respiratory problems.
 
Ground-level ozone (smog) forms when volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen interact in the presence of sunlight. Cars, trucks and buses give off the majority of the pollution that makes smog. Fossil fuel burning at electric powerplants, particularly on hot days, emit smog-making pollution. Gasoline stations, print shops, household products like paints and cleaners, as well as lawn and garden equipment also add significantly to the ozone smog.

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More on Air Pollution & Kudzu:
Biofuel Feedstocks Gain a New Candidate: Kudzu
Existing Ozone Controls Aren't Protecting Human Health or the Environment
Better Air Quality Means Fewer Ear Infections in Children
Air Pollution Means Slower Marathon Times for Women but not Men

Tags: Air Pollution | United States