Shelter Forest Program proves effective to eliminate PM2.5

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A new study says that the Three-North Shelter Forest Program, originally built to improve the ecological environment, is also able to combat PM2.5.

A part of the Three-North Shelter Forest Program. [Photo:]

 A part of the Three-North Shelter Forest Program. [Photo:]

The Three-North Shelterbelt Program, also known as the Green Great Wall, is a series of human-planted, wind-breaking forest strips in all three northern regions in China: the north, the northeast and the northwest, which covers 42.4 percent of the country's land area.

It is designed to improve the ecological environment and is anticipated be finished around 2050.

Conducted by a group of researchers from Lanzhou University, the study says that the "shelterbelts" are able to absorb and eliminate atmospheric pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide, and PM2.5 (a type of air pollutant with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less).

Compared with 1982, the forest strips' ability to absorb and remove sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide has increased 60 percent in 2010, and their ability to absorb and eliminate PM2.5 has improved 30 percent in the same time frame, the study finds.

Ma Jianmin, a professor from Lanzhou University's College of Earth Environmental Sciences and a member of the research group, said the shelterbelts have played a significant role in improving air quality in North China. "They have absorbed a total of 1,100,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide from 1982 to 2010," Ma said.

He said the forest strips eliminated 30 million tons of PM2.5 in "the North" between 1999 and 2010, which was 0.9 percent of the region's total PM2.5 volume.

Huang Tao, a member of the research group, said that without the shelter forests, the "Three-North" regions' ability to absorb organic pollutants would have reduced 30 percent, and their ability to absorb benzopyrene (a type of carcinogen and a main component of PM 2.5) would have decreased 50 percent.

However, the shelter forests have also discharged some amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC) - isoprene, which is a precursor compound of PM2.5.

The researchers suggest that in the next stage of construction, related departments should also bear in mind that different types of trees have different functions when it comes to absorbing and removing atmospheric pollutants, and should plant more drought-tolerant, cold-resistant trees that are good at absorbing and eliminating air pollutants, but don't discharge much volatile organic compounds.

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