Protecting agricultural crops from the effects of tropospheric ozone exposure: Reconciling science and standard setting in the United States, Europe, and Asia

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Ozone (O3) is well documented as the air pollutant most damaging to agricultural crops and other plants. Most crops in developed countries are grown in summer when O3 concentrations are elevated and frequently are sufficiently high to reduce yields. This article examines the difficulties in scientifically determining the reduction in yield that results from the exposure of agricultural crops to surface O3 and then transforming that knowledge into efficient and effective regulatory standards. The different approaches taken by the United States and Europe in addressing this issue as well as the few studies that have been conducted to date in developing countries are examined and summarized. Extensive research was conducted in the United States during the 1980s but has not been continued. During the 1990s, the European community forged ahead with scientific research and innovative proposals for air-quality standards. These efforts included the development of a "critical level" (CL) for O3 based on a cumulative exposure above a cutoff concentration below which only an acceptable level of harm is incurred. Current research focuses on estimating O3 dosage to plants and incorporating this metric into regulatory standards. The US regulatory community can learn from current European scientific research and regulatory strategies, which argue strongly for a separate secondary standard for O3 to protect vegetation. Increasing impacts of O3 on crops are likely in developing countries as they continue to industrialize and their emissions of air pollutants increase. More research is needed on surface O3 concentrations in developing countries, on their projected increase, and on the sensitivity that crop cultivars used in developing countries have to O3. The threat of reduced agricultural yields due to increasing O3 concentrations may encourage developing countries to increase their energy efficiency and to use different energy sources. This could simultaneously achieve a local benefit through improved regional air quality and a global benefit through a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-268
Number of pages32
JournalAnnual Review of Energy and the Environment
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology


  • Agriculture
  • Air pollution
  • Development
  • Standards


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