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Allergies may grow like weeds as Earth warms

Mike De Souza, Canwest News Service

Allergies and sniffling will be on the rise because of global warming pollution that is also threatening the agriculture industry, new research indicates.

Bringing together a series of recent studies, including work by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a non-profit group of weed experts said that the evidence justifies new policies and spending priorities to protect the public.

The Weed Science Society of America has discovered a link between allergies, global warming and their effects on the agriculture industry.

The increased exposure to carbon dioxide emissions has resulted in larger weeds that can grow faster and overtake other crops as well as disperse more allergy-causing pollen in the air, according to some of the latest research.

"A lot of people out there have hay fever and asthma and allergies," said Lee Van Wychen, director of science policy for the Weed Science Society of America. "It's a very real problem. When you talk to any type of organic farmer, their No. 1 issue in general . . . is weed control, because they don't have a safe herbicide to apply."

One study also revealed that weeds in cities with warmer temperatures and higher carbon dioxide concentrations could grow four times larger than the weeds in rural areas, with as much as four times the pollen. The weed experts argue that investing in agricultural research now would bring high returns, while health care networks and the agriculture industry risk significant losses if they don't learn more about what the future could hold.

"This frankly should be a no-brainer, given what's happening," said Lewis Ziska, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who conducted the study. "You know what's happening with pine-bark beetle in Western Canada. . . . Even though we know what's happening, there isn't any effort at the moment to try and synthesize this and to make projections for how much of an impact it will have."

Other research has also suggested that increased carbon dioxide concentrations can also lead to larger and more potent poison ivy plants.

Public health experts in the Canadian government have acknowledged the risk of stronger allergy seasons in the future. Areas that are prone to drought, such as the prairies, would also be at risk of a rise in respiratory illnesses because of higher concentrations of dust particles in the air, a public health official warned in 2007.

ŠThe Calgary Herald 2008

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