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Geography of Food Contamination by Coal Emissions in N.W. China

Funding Year: 
2011
Region(s): 
Asia
Research Areas: 
Natural Capital
Food Security
Sustainability
Principal Investigators: 

Mercury, lead and other atmospheric emissions from coal combustion adversely affect the health of hundreds of millions of people across China. The EVP team will map Chinese croplands most at risk from airborne contaminants, allowing managers to develop land-use policies that maximize yields and minimize health impacts.

Coal combustion in China leads to the contamination of agricultural soils through deposition of hundreds of tons of metals annually on croplands, leading to decreased crop yields and heavy metal accumulation in edible crops. With predictions that coal combustion will continue to increase, maintaining healthy agricultural lands is vital to feeding the nation, especially given price volatility on international markets.

Chinas largest coal producing and coal-combusting regions are often rural, where much of the land is dedicated to agricultural use and the local populations are extremely poor, with agriculture being the primary means of income. Rural environmental protection to maintain farmlands is often lacking or non-existent, where local governments and farmers are often uninformed about the quality of soils and crops produced by their own land. The health consequences could reach beyond Chinas borders to global consumers of Chinese agricultural products.

An integrated system to evaluate the best options for minimizing metal contamination of crops has yet to be developed. This project aims to develop a decision-analysis tool that integrates physical, biogeochemical, demographic, and socioeconomic factors to provide farmers and policy makers with knowledge of the degree of soil and crop contamination on their farmlands, and will identify the most economical and environmentally sound cropping alternatives. This risk assessment map will inform land management to minimize adverse metal effects on crop production and metal loadings.