The Amazon Rainforest, for a time, was shrinking at an alarming rate due to heavy deforestation. In recent years, however, the rate of deforestation has slowed down. Apart from preserving natural habitat for a number of plant and animal species, a new study shows that the quality of air is steadily improving in South America.
Improving Air Quality and Health
The improving quality of air within the region is also preventing the premature deaths of over 1,700 adults per year throughout South America. Paulo Artaxo, Full Professor of Physics at USP, said, “The study shows for the first time that reducing deforestation results in improved air quality, which in turn leads to a reduction in the number of deaths due to exposure to atmospheric pollution in most of South America.”
According to the study, deforestation in Brazil had fallen by 40 percent since 2001 and 2012. The data show that there was a substantial reduction; from 37,800 square kilometers per year in 2002 to 2004 to just 22,900 square kilometers per year between 2009 and 2011.
The researchers estimated the impact of the particulate matter that is being emitted by forest fires on human health by calculating the rates of premature adult mortality. They specifically focused on lung cancer and cardiopulmonary disease from exposure to aerosols between 2002 to 2011.
Artaxo explained, “Mortality rates were calculated for adults older than 30 years of age using consistent epidemiological date from the literature.” The study clarified the fears of many environmental groups – that the greatest risk to health within the region wasn’t only due to people living close to where deforestation fires were occurring, but also due to atmospheric transport of smoke to more densely populated regions.
A Greener Future
Part of the reason forests are starting to bounce back is due to satellite monitoring data and an incentive system dedicated to protecting and preserving the rainforest areas. Forests are also surprisingly resilient and, given enough time, will eventually grow back stronger and more expansive than ever.
Despite the rather positive outlook for the Amazon’s rainforests, environmental groups cautioned that the efforts to preserve forests and green spaces throughout the world should not slow down. If the previous health concerns in South America were any indication of the importance of preserving trees and forests, the same should apply to other forests that are constantly deforested for resources.
The authors of the study said that to maximize these benefits, public policy should be aimed at zero deforestation as well as stopping slash and burn in all most tropical forest areas.