How Do Car Emissions Affect Roadside Trees?

As more and more eco-friendly vehicles enter the automotive market and luxurious hybrids continue to grow in popularity, there’s no denying that the cars we drive are—slowly but surely—becoming greener. However, the vast majority of Americans are still driving gasoline-only autos rather than electric cars and hybrids. This means that exhaust emissions remain a major environmental problem in the United States.


Invisible Dangers of Car Emissions

Exhaust fumes from cars, trucks, SUVs, and other vehicles contain a wide variety of harmful chemicals and known carcinogens, including:

  • Carbon monoxide, which is suspected to be a contributor to global warming;
  • Nitrogen dioxide, which contributes to acid rain;
  • Sulfur dioxide, which can cause pulmonary and respiratory distress;
  • Soot, which impacts breathing and can even damage lung tissue;
  • Benzene, a known human carcinogen; and
  • Formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen

Although it can be difficult – if not impossible – to pinpoint car emissions as a cause or a leading contributor to various illnesses and diseases, substantial research has linked exhaust emissions to a variety of health problems. People who are living with respiratory conditions like allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can definitely attest to this fact.

Purpose of Roadside Trees

It makes perfect sense, then, that car emissions also have an effect on plant life. Trees and other plants make their own “food” from carbon dioxide, water, sunlight, and elements found in soil and then release oxygen for humans and animals to breathe. Used for roadside beautification purposes as well as noise barriers, one acre of trees should absorb enough carbon dioxide over one year’s time to offset the amount of carbon dioxide produced by driving a car 26,000 miles.

Trees and other roadside vegetation are common on busy interstates as well as smaller state and city roads.  A pilot study of the National Highway System by the Federal Highway Administration found that there are just 3.4 million acres of roadside trees, grasses and shrubs alongside the unpaved right of way of 163,000 miles of interstates and highways in the United States.

Are Roadside Trees Enough?

In 2011, the number of operating vehicles in the world surpassed one billion. At that time, the United States alone had nearly 240 million registered vehicles, giving the U.S. the largest vehicle population in the entire world. As families continue to become multi-vehicle households and fewer people utilize public transportation, the number of automobiles continues to grow.

Although roadside trees are planted with the intention of removing pollutants caused by car emissions from the air—a job that they can help perform—the number of cars in this country appears to be growing faster than the number of trees. Trees and other vegetation can also increase some pollutants in the air by emitting organic compounds that have been found to contribute to carbon monoxide formation.

Although most people mistakenly believe that just one person can’t make a difference, planting trees in your own yard and making a conscious effort to carpool or take public transportation and occasionally walk or bike rather than drive can help the environment.

Small changes can make big differences.

Featured images:

Chris Turberville-Tully works with L & L Automotive providing new and used Mercedes. Hertfordshire and Essex locations for your convenience.




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