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Welfare Effects of Bioaerosols

The welfare effects of bioaerosols are extensive, ranging from crop and livestock damage to the economic effects due to health effects.

Airborne fungi, bacteria, and viruses can be a serious detriment to the agricultural sector. One of the most infamous welfare effects of bioaerosols was due to the fungus, Phytophthora infestans, which devastated Ireland in the middle of the 19th century. Over a period of three years, this airborne fungus decimated the potato crop of Ireland, leading to a famine that claimed the lives of an estimated 500,000-1,000,000 people. Another 2,000,000 people left the country because of the dire circumstances in what is known as the Irish Potato Famine. This fungus single-handedly altered the course of history for Ireland.

Figure 9: The start of the Irish Potato Famine caused by a foreign fungus carried by ships and wind to Ireland. The fungus multiplied on the potato plants, causing its leaves to rot and wither, and was then transported by the wind to surrounding plants.

Livestock can also be infected with pathogenic microorganisms, similar to humans. In the close quarters of typical animal houses, diseases are easily transmitted from animal to animal. In 1991, Bovine Respiratory Disease cost the cattle industry an estimated $624 million in cattle deaths in the US.

Another example of economic loss is the airborne toxins created from Red Tide algal blooms discussed in the previous section. The effects of the bioaerosols are so uncomfortable, the tourism industry in the many vacation towns on the Gulf of Mexico shore can take a big economic hit.

Other facets of welfare effects caused by bioaerosols are those related to health. Fully grasping all of the costs associated with health care, lost productivity, and general discomfort due to allergies, respiratory sensitization, and pathogenic bioaerosols would be difficult. Allergies are believed to cost our economy close to $7 billion annually, with close to $6 billion resulting from medications and medical visits and another $1 billion in lost productivity4. Beyond that, many sufferers would find it difficult to place a cost on the misery of the experience.

4Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America