Using Communities’ Backyard Plants as Aerosol Pollution Monitors

Jan. 16, 2024

University of Arizona Superfund Research Center (UA SRC) Research Translation director Dr. Mónica Ramírez-Andreotta recently partnered with other researchers to show how backyard and garden plants can serve as aerosol pollution monitors.

Air pollution is one of the leading causes of death from noncommunicable diseases globally, and in Arizona, both mining activities and abandoned agriculture can generate erodible dust. This dust is transported via wind and can carry high amounts of toxic pollutants.

This study was built upon previous community science work in which plant leaves were observed to collect similar concentrations to an accepted dust collection method and illustrated promise. This work (Zeider et al., 2023) investigated the concentration of many pollutants in dust from the leaves of community-collected backyard and garden plants (foliar dust), as well as if certain variables affected collection efficacy.

This assessment evaluated foliar concentration versus surface area; enrichment factor (EF) values and ratios; comparisons of foliar, garden, and yard samples to U.S. Geological Survey data; and what variable significantly affected dust collection efficacy.

The EF results indicate that many of the samples were enriched and that the foliar samples were generally more contaminated than the yard and garden soil samples. Leaf surface area was the most influential factor for leaf collection efficiency compared to plant family or sampling location.

This study has demonstrated that foliar dust is enriched in the participating partnering communities and that plant leaf samples can serve as backyard aerosol pollution monitors. Therefore, foliar dust is a viable indicator of outdoor settled dust and aerosol contamination and this is an adoptable monitoring technique for “fenceline communities.”

Citation: Zeider, K., Manjón, I., Betterton, E. A., Sáez, A. E., Sorooshian, A., & Ramírez-Andreotta, M. D. (2023). Backyard aerosol pollution monitors: foliar surfaces, dust enrichment, and factors influencing foliar retention. Environmental monitoring and assessment, 195(10), 1200. PMID: 37700111; PMCID: PMC10636967.

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