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Air Pollutants and Plant Response

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Prior to the early 1950's plant damage from air pollution in the eastern United States was only recognized around individual large emitters. The damage to vegetation was frequently severe over a limited area. Today most of these large source emitters have corrected their problem. However, now instead of limited areas showing severe injury to many plants, large areas showing injury to only the more sensitive plants occur. The pollutants that we are most concerned with now have their origin in combustion with sizable amounts of sulfur dioxide coming from the burning of coal, oil, and plant material. Nitrogen oxides are generated in the elevated temperatures produced by fires and unburned organic compounds escape into the atmosphere from all combustion sources. Of these pollutants SO2 may injure plants. In addition to these primary products of combustion, new compounds are formed in the sunlight from reactions (photochemical) that require energy from the sun to occur. From these reactions such compounds as ozone. PAN (peroxyacetylnitrate) and its analogues and perhaps other plant toxicants are formed. Each of these toxic compounds is injurious to certain sensitve plant species at very low concentrations and each toxic pollutant produces symptoms to certain plants that may be distingushed from the other pollutants. The number of plants affected by gases that have their origin in combustion are increasing with time and the area showing such injury is also expanding. Since these pollutants are dependent upon automoble exhaust and effluents from coal, oil, and rubbish burning, such pollutants will increase with our expanding population and industrial growth unless controlled.
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Document Type: Journal Article

Affiliations: Assistant Research Specialist, Department of Plant Biology, Rutgers--The State University, New Brunswick, N.J.

Publication date: 1967-06-01

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