Green Screen: Can Trees Really Clean the Air?

Front of school building

St. Margaret Mary School is about to become involved in an interesting study on trees and clean air.
Image: Shutterstock

St. Margaret Mary School is set on a busy road in Louisville, Kentucky. Right outside the bus turnaround is a light, and for hours a day, traffic backs up there, idling and putting out exhaust so thick it makes a visible haze.

This summer, a University of Louisville study will be aimed at addressing that pollution. Not just for the benefit of St. Margaret Mary students, but for widespread gain.

It’s long been known that trees and growth help reduce some kinds of air pollution. Enough for some health benefits as a result? Still debatable.

“People appreciate trees, and they’re good and they’re aesthetically pleasing, but whether they actually have specific quantifiable health-promoting effects by removing pollutants from air has never been rigorously tested,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, a staff member at University of Louisville.

In conjunction with the Institute of Healthy Air, Water, and Soil and Louisville Metro’s Office of Sustainability, the U of L will spend the summer taking in data at the school. Once they have a solid basis of comparison, they’ll plant a “green screen” of twenty-foot-tall trees and bushes, screening part of the school’s campus from nearby Shelbyville Road. Then they’ll continue to monitor the school for the next year or longer.

They aren’t just using the school as a testing ground, though. St. Margaret Mary students will be involved in the entire process, from data-gathering to tree-planting. The new green space will become an outdoor classroom, and eventually, the school will use the results of the study to decide if they want to continue the screen around the entire school.

Bhatnagar’s hope for the study is for it to show clear enough benefits from this limited experiment to be expanded. He’d like to perform the same research on a neighborhood scale.

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