The many health benefits of trees are hardly debated, but now there’s even more of a reason to live near them: a new study finds that trees remove deadly pollution from the air, and as a result, prevented 850 deaths in 2010.
Not only do trees provide much-needed oxygen to our lungs, but they also absorb pollution from the air. They do this by trapping particles of pollutants in the pores of their leaves and stems, which also absorb carbon-dioxide and other dangerous gases. This is the same pollution that often causes deathly human respiratory illnesses.
The study shows that more trees in an area remove more pollution from the air. This was even more true in urban areas, where population is greater, meaning more people are affected by the positive impact of trees.
"In terms of impacts on human health, trees in urban areas are substantially more important than rural trees due to their proximity to people," the researchers said. "The greatest monetary values are derived in areas with the greatest population density (e.g. Manhattan)."
This was particularly noted when a separate study looked at respiratory illnesses and deaths from 1990 to 2007, studying areas where trees were devastated by the emerald ash borer beetle. In those areas, over 6,113 people died from respiratory problems and another 15,080 succumbed to heart disease.
Of course, trees don’t come just with physical health benefits, but psychological ones as well. A 2010 study found that when exercisers walked or ran in a natural environment (including one with trees), such as a public park, they had less anger, less feelings of tiredness and felt less depressed. The study stressed the importance of trees in urban areas for this specific purpose, but when combined with their ability to reduce air pollutants in cities that have high levels of pollution, it seems a no-brainer that cities should focus on planting more trees and building more public parks.
Living around trees can be good for your wallet, too. By preventing respiratory illnesses in humans, the study estimates that over $6 billion is saved in avoided health care costs. Also, according to the Center for Urban Forest Research, a tree planted on the west side of your house could decrease your energy bills by 3% in just five years. The organization also states that planting trees around your home has monetary benefits, including increased property values.