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Asia Minute: Ozone pollution takes a multi-billion-dollar toll on food crops in East Asia

Virus Outbreak China’s Air ozone pollution
Andy Wong/AP
FILE - In this Dec. 20, 2015 file photo, a woman wearing a mask for protection against pollution walks on a pedestrian overhead bridge as office buildings in the Central Business District of Beijing are shrouded with smog. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

One positive story about the environment in recent years has been about improvements in the ozone layer of the atmosphere. That’s a result of an international agreement phasing out the use of substances that hurt the protective layer.

But a new study finds that at the ground level, man-made ozone is hurting food crops in East Asia.

Ozone is a naturally occurring gas in the earth’s atmosphere. At high altitudes, it absorbs ultraviolet light.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the ozone layer helps shield us against everything from skin cancer to cataracts.

The depletion of the ozone layer led to an agreement back in the 1980’s phasing out the use of chlorofluorocarbons — eventually helping to restore the protective layer.

But ground-level ozone plays a more dangerous role.

It pollutes — it’s usually created by an interaction involving sunlight and exhaust fumes from cars or factories.

And according to a new report, it destroys about $63 billion in food crops in East Asia each year.

That’s according to a study just published in the journal Nature Food — which says ozone pollution is causing the loss of rice, wheat and corn crops in China, South Korea and Japan.

The biggest crop losses were in China — where research found the average level of surface ozone was more than six times the “critical level for plant health protection.”

One of the authors noted “air pollution control in North America and Europe succeeded in lowering ozone levels” — and the study recommends the same approach for East Asia.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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