Report Claims Link Between Corn Production, Ammonia Emissions and Deaths

April 18, 2019

A study, “Air-quality-related health damages of maize,” led by a University of Minnesota researcher, was published this month in the journal Nature.  The study found that U.S. corn “production is associated with 4,300 premature deaths annually, with estimated damages in monetary terms of $39 billion.”  The study suggests these deaths and costs could be avoided through “strategic interventions” including “changing the fertilizer type and application method, improving nitrogen use efficiency, switching to crops requiring less fertilizer, and geographically relocating production.”

The report’s estimated deaths due to corn production and fertilizer emissions of ammonia rely on a highly questionable assumption that human health problems are caused by fine particulate matter (PM2.5) formed in the atmosphere when ammonia, volatilized after manure or nitrogen fertilizer applications, combines with other substances. UEP and other organizations in animal agriculture have long questioned this assumed linkage between ammonia emissions, PM2.5 formation, and human health.

The National Institutes of Health database of toxicology studies has a long record of peer-reviewed investigations of the effects of direct inhalation of ammonia forms of PM2.5 on people.  Those studies overwhelmingly show that there are no, or at best minimal, human health consequences.

Press coverage on the study has been limited but National Public Radio published “Growing Corn Is A Major Contributor To Air Pollution, Study Finds.”  UEP will continue to work with others in animal agriculture, and now corn producers, to respond to this report.