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Massachusetts Funding Study Of Acid Rain’s Effect On Crops With PM-Acid Rain Bjt

September 25, 1985

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) _ University of Massachusetts scientists will begin looking next month for a way to tell farmers and horticulturists which crop strains are the most resistant to acid rain, ozone and other pollutants.

The study is part of a series of research efforts announced Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

The university will get $90,000 next week begin the studies, Richard P. Taupier, the office’s assistant secretary for research, said, and more funds are being sought to continue the projects beyond one year.

Massachusetts has spent about $2 million since 1981 studying the effects of acid rain on water bodies, forests, buildings, statuary and gravestones, but has never before looked at its effects on plants, Taupier said.

Plant pathologist William Feder, who will conduct part of the research at the university’s Suburban Experiment Station in Waltham, said a major objective was finding a way to tell the farmer: ″Don’t use variety A of squash. Use variety B.″

Feder said he would attempt to use pollen as an indicator of the effect of a combination of the pollutants on plants.

″It has been established that all kinds of plants have differing kinds of sensibilities to ozone, but it has never been followed through, using pollen as a predictive tool,″ he said.

It is widely believed that ozone was far more harmful to agricultural and horticultural plants than acid rain, and most studies have focused on an individual pollutant’s effects, Feder said.

″What we don’t know is whether the two are operating in concert,″ he said. ″Internationally, people are looking at air pollution’s effects on plants as a complex mix of acid rain, ozone and oxides of sulphur and nitrogen. We need to look at this mix because in the real world they’re never separated.″

Feder’s use of pollen in the study is believed to be unique, said the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Walter W. Heck, who heads the Agricultural Research Service’s air quality program in Raleigh, N.C.

″He is probably one of the first ones to look seriously at the effects of gaseous pollutants, ozone primarily, on pollen germination and growth,″ said Heck. ″He is the first one to show that in certain species of crop plants ozone could cause reduced germination and reduction in pollen tube growth.″

Feder said he planned to place pollen from agricultural and horticultural plants in a growth medium in a laboratory where the air has been filtered to prevent unknown pollutants from skewing the results.

″We expect to see different rates of pollen germination and pollen tube elongation,″ he said, explaining that pollen grow tubes when they germinate. ″The rate and length depend on the external environment.″

Another study by the university will examine the effect of acid precipitation on apples, corn and tomatoes that have been treated with chemicals to control pests and weeds and to promote growth.

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