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STUDY: Agriculture replaces fossil fuels as largest human source of sulfur to the environment


Applications of sulfur to croplands in the US and elsewhere are often ten times higher than the sulfur in acid rain, which is linked to degradation of forest and aquatic ecosystems.

SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: Acid rain gained attention in the 1960s and 1970s when scientists linked degradation of forest and aquatic ecosystems across the northeastern US and Europe to fossil fuel emissions from industrial centers often hundreds of kilometers away… Coal-fired power plants were the largest source of reactive sulfur, a component of acid rain, to the biosphere… This prompted the Clean Air Act and its Amendments, which regulated air pollution, driving sulfur levels in atmospheric deposition down to low levels today…

A new study recently published in the journal Nature Geoscience shows that fertilizer and pesticide applications to croplands are now the most important source of sulfur to the environment… “It seemed like the sulfur story was over,” said Eve-Lyn Hinckley, assistant professor of environmental studies at University of Colorado, Boulder, and lead author of the study. “But our analysis shows that sulfur applications to croplands in the US and elsewhere are often ten times higher than the peak sulfur load in acid rain. No one has looked comprehensively at the environmental and human health consequences of these additions.”

“Although sulfur is applied to agricultural lands to improve the production and health of crops, it can have detrimental effects to agricultural soils and downstream waters, similar to what occurred in remote forest landscapes under acid rain,” indicates Charles Driscoll, a professor at Syracuse University and co-author of the study… The researchers predict that increasing trends will continue in many croplands around the world, including places like China and India that are still working to regulate fossil fuel emissions. SOURCE…