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Reducing public health cost through agricultural soil application of biochar

Ghasideh Pourhashem
Rice University

Farms using fertilizer can be sources of nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2, collectively termed NOx), which are precursor gases for secondary air pollutants. Early reports on biochar’s impact on soil NO emission suggest that biochar soil application may reduce agricultural NOx emissions, potentially leading to reductions in local air pollution and the associated public health damages generated from fertilized lands. In this study, we link biochar-driven soil NO emission reductions to regional health through air quality modeling. We estimate US county-level savings on reduced health problems from exposure to a lower concentration of air pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter. Through calculating the magnitude of potential savings from avoided health risks, we assess the locations where large-scale deployment of biochar can be beneficial for local communities and governments. In addition, we measure the relative per capita savings of agricultural biochar application for counties and states to provide health benefit-adjusted economic values. Our results suggest that biochar incorporation in farm management practices in areas with high agricultural activities near areas with relatively higher populations may lead to significant avoided health costs. Of course, the cost of biochar must also be considered, but identifying scenarios where biochar soil application can maximize potential benefits can help guide the most cost-effective policy approaches to encouraging biochar application.


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