Air quality-related health damages of food

Nina Gabrielle G Domingo, Srinidhi Balasubramanian, Sumil K. Thakrar, Michael A. Clark, Peter J. Adams, Julian Marshall, Nicholas Z. Muller, Spyros N. Pandis, Stephen Polasky, Allen L. Robinson, Christopher M Tessum, David Tilman, Peter Tschofen, Jason D. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Agriculture is a major contributor to air pollution, the largest environmental risk factor for mortality in the United States andworldwide. It is largely unknown, however, how individual foods or entire diets affect human health via poor air quality. We show how food production negatively impacts human health by increasing atmospheric fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and we identify ways to reduce these negative impacts of agriculture. We quantify the air quality-related health damages attributable to 95 agricultural commodities and 67 final food products, which encompass >99% of agricultural production in the United States. Agricultural production in the United States results in 17,900 annual air quality-related deaths, 15,900 of which are from food production. Of those, 80% are attributable to animalbased foods, both directly fromanimal production and indirectly from growing animal feed. On-farm interventions can reduce PM2.5-related mortality by 50%, including improved livestock waste management and fertilizer application practices that reduce emissions of ammonia, a secondary PM2.5precursor, and improved crop and animal production practices that reduce primary PM2.5emissions from tillage, field burning, livestock dust, and machinery. Dietary shifts toward more plant-based foods that maintain protein intake and other nutritional needs could reduce agricultural air quality-related mortality by 68 to 83%. In sum, improved livestock and fertilization practices, and dietary shifts could greatly decrease the health impacts of agriculture caused by its contribution to reduced air quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2013637118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 18 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
editorial assistance. This publication was developed as part of the Center for Air, Climate and Energy Solutions, which was supported under Assistance Agreement No. R835873 awarded by the US EPA. It has not been formally reviewed by the EPA. The views expressed in this document are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Agency. The EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this publication. This research was also supported by the Wellcome Trust, Our Planet, Our Health (Livestock, Environment, and People-LEAP) Award No. 205212/Z/16/Z and USDA Projects MIN-12-083 and MIN-12-110.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Agriculture
  • Air quality
  • Fine particulate matter
  • Food
  • Pollution

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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