Infamous kudzu, the plant that ate the South (and now nibbling at the Northeast), can add air pollution to its list of ecological misdeeds.
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the invasive plant helps create huge amounts of ozone.
Kudzu produces isoprene and nitric oxide. Ozone forms when these chemicals combine with nitrogen. While ozone is beneficial in higher reaches of the atmosphere, down here at our level it can exacerbate asthma and may cause cancer.
We found that this chemical reaction caused by kudzu leads to about a 50 percent increase in the number of days each year in which ozone levels exceed what the Environmental Protection Agency deems as unhealthy.
This increase in ozone completely overcomes the reductions in ozone realized from automobile pollution control legislation.
A possible silver lining in kudzu's ever-expanding cloud of green vines is the plant has shown some potential as a biofuel. Previous research, conducted by the USDA and University of Toronto, has suggested an acre of kudzu yields more gallons of ethanol than that of corn.
The long-term economical feasibility of this biofuel, however, is an issue. After all we want to get rid of this plant, right? Even if we didn't, the weed is difficult to cultivate and...control, obviously. Kudzu can grow more than six feet in a week.
Still, if eradication and disposal efforts could prove to fit seamlessly into some long-lasting biofuel infrastructure, we might as well put this prolific resource to use—and help squelch ozone pollution while we're at it.
One Tennessee company, Agrogas Industries, already has plans to do so. The company's co-founder, Douglas Mizell, appears below on NBC Nightly News.