How can vegetation protect us from air pollution? A critical review on green spaces’ mitigation abilities for air-borne particles from a public health perspective – with implications for urban planning

2021-06-24

Air pollution causes the largest death toll among environmental risks globally, but interventions to purify ambient air remain inadequate. Vegetation and green spaces have shown reductive effects on air-borne pollutants concentrations, especially of particulate matter (PM). Guidance on green space utilisation for air quality control remains scarce, however, as does its application in practise. To strengthen the foundation for research and interventions, we undertook a critical review of the state of science from a public health perspective. We used inter-disciplinary search strategies for published reviews on green spaces and air pollution in key scientific databases. Using the PRISMA checklist, we systematically identified reviews with quantitative analyses. For each of the presented PM mitigation mechanisms, we conducted additional searches focused on the most recent articles published between 2016 and early 2021. The included reviews differentiate three mitigation mechanisms of green spaces for PM: deposition, dispersion and modification. The most studied mechanism is deposition, particularly measures of mass and settling velocity of PM on plant leaves. We consolidate how green space setups differ by scale and context in their potentials to reduce peak exposures, stationary (point) or mobile (line) pollution sources, and the potentially most harmful PM components. The assessed findings suggest diverse optimisation options for green space interventions, particularly concerning plant selection, spatial setup, ventilation and maintenance – all alongside the consideration of supplementary vegetation effects like on temperature or water. Green spaces’ reductive effects on air-borne PM concentrations are considerable, multi-mechanistic and varied by scale, context and vegetation characteristics. Such effect-modifying factors must be considered when rethinking public space design, as accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Weak linkages amid involved disciplines motivate the development of a research framework to strengthen health-oriented guidance. We conclude on an urgent need for an integrated and risk-based approach to PM mitigation through green space interventions.

Authors: Arnt Diener, Pierpaolo Mudu
; Full Source: The Science of the total environment 2021 Jun 24;796:148605. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.148605.