More than just pretty to look at: trees remove pollution, help human health

Urban trees-bank parking lot
Image: Washington State Department of Natural Resources

We’ve said time and time again in this blog and that, “Trees are good!” Now we have more proof, thanks to a recently published study by the U.S. Forest Service.

Trees are saving more than 850 human lives each year and preventing 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms in the U.S., according to the study — “Tree and Forest Effects on Air Quality and Human Health in the United States” — the first broad-scale estimate of air pollution removal by trees.

Looking at four common air pollutants — nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 microns — researchers valued the human health benefits of the reduced air pollution at nearly $7 billion annually. While trees’ pollution removal equated to an average air quality improvement of less than 1 percent, the impacts of that improvement are substantial. As expected, the pollution removal effect is substantially higher in rural areas (more trees) than in urban areas (fewer trees); however the effects on human health are substantially greater in urban areas because of the greater amounts of air-borne pollution and numbers of people affected.

Housed at DNR, the Washington Urban and Community Forestry Program promotes the economic, environmental, psychological, and aesthetic benefits of trees and helps local governments, citizen groups, and volunteers plant and sustain healthy trees where people live and work.

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