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04 June 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Prof Cathryn Tonne
Air pollution not only costs lives, it costs money too. Pictured is Prof Cathryn Tonne presenting a guest lecture on air pollution at the Bloemfontein Campus.

Health effects associated with ambient air pollution (AAP) have been well documented. Subsequently, the relationship between pollution and financial outcomes have also become a focus for case studies globally. An Environmental Research journal article revealed that “low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the global burden of adverse health effects caused by AAP”. 

A high price to pay

In 2012, high concentrations of air pollution caused 7.4% of all deaths, costing South Africa up to 6% of its Gross Domestic Product. According to the recent International Growth Centre study conducted by senior University of Cape Town researchers, this is a direct consequence of the country’s heavy dependence of fossil fuels, a source of health-damaging air pollution and greenhouse pollutants.

Stunted human and economic growth

These South African statistics are attested to by Prof Cathryn Tonne who recently presented a guest lecture on air pollution which was hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) Business School.

“Air pollution can affect economic development through several pathways, and health is an important one. Air pollution is linked to shorter life expectancy, chronic disease, asthma exacerbation and many other health outcomes that result in absenteeism from work and school. These have large direct costs to the health system.” 

Prof Tonne says that air pollution exposure in children is linked to reduced cognitive development, with important impacts on human capital. As a result, children are not reaching their full potential in terms of neurodevelopment, which has an effect on their income prospects and the economy as a whole. 

Resolving a looming disaster

Technology may be employed to radically clean the air. Cities need to lead in the reduction of air pollution by promoting renewable energy, using active transport such as walking or cycling, and investing in infrastructure to make this safe and attractive. 

With researchers playing a major role in strengthening the case for aggressive air pollution control, the government needs to implement policies in order to control sources of air pollution. This global health and economic issue also requires individuals and communities to play their part to improve air quality.

News Archive

Plant eco-physiologist finds effective solutions for crop optimisation
2016-07-24

Description: Orange trees Tags: Orange trees

The bio-stimulant was tested on
this citrus. This is the first time
that the product has been tested
on a crop.

In a time characterised by society facing increasing population growth, food crises, and extreme climatic conditions such as drought, it is essential for farmers to integrate science with their work practices in order to optimise crops.

Role of photosynthesis and plant sap data

By knowing how to use photosynthesis and plant sap data for determining plant health, fast and effective solutions could be established for the optimisation of crops. This technique, which could help farmers utilise every bit of usable land effectively, is the focus of Marguerite Westcott’s PhD study. She is a junior lecturer and plant eco-physiologist in die Department of Plant Sciences at the University of the Free State.

Westcott uses this technique in her studies to prove that a newly-developed bio-stimulant stimulates plants in order to metabolise water and other nutrients better, yielding increased crops as a result.

Agricultural and mining sectors benefit from research

The greatest part of these projects focuses on the agricultural sector. Westcott and a colleague, Dr Gert Marais, are researching the physiology of pecan and citrus trees in order to optimise the growth of these crops, thus minimising disease through biological methods. Field trials are being conducted in actively-producing orchards in the Hartswater and Patensie areas in conjunction with the South African Pecan Nut Producers Association (SAPPA) amongst others.
 
The principles that Westcott applies in her research are also used in combination with the bio-stimulant in other studies on disturbed soil, such as mine-dump material, for establishing plants in areas where they would not grow normally. This is an economical way for both the agricultural and mining sectors to improve nutrient absorption, stimulate growth, and contribute to the sustainable utilisation of the soil.

Description: Pecan nut orchards  Tags: Pecan nut orchards

The bio-stimulant contributes to the immunity of the plants.
It was tested in these pecan nut orchards (Hartswater).

Soil rehabilitation key aspect in research projects

“One of two things is happening in my research projects. Either the soil is rehabilitated to bring about the optimal growth of a plant, or the plants are used to rehabilitate the soil,” says Westcott.

Data surveys for her PhD studies began in 2015. “This will be a long-term project in which seasonal data will be collected continuously. The first set of complete field data, together with pot trial data, will be completed after the current crop harvest,” says Westcott.

 

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