200,000 Early Deaths A Year Due To Air Pollution, Says Study

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

While the 1970 Clean Air Act was put in place by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to protect the public health, a new study by researchers from MIT’s Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment have found that these efforts likely aren’t doing enough.

This new study found that vehicle emissions are the biggest contributor to premature death. According to the study more than 200,000 early deaths occur in the United States each year due to combustion emissions, and the leading causes are road transportation and power generation.

The findings were published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

“Combustion emissions adversely impact air quality and human health,” the paper’s abstract noted. “A multiscale air quality model is applied to assess the health impacts of major emissions sectors in United States. Emissions are classified according to six different sources: electric power generation, industry, commercial and residential sources, road transportation, marine transportation and rail transportation. Epidemiological evidence is used to relate long-term population exposure to sector-induced changes in the concentrations of PM2.5 and ozone to incidences of premature death.”

The MIT researchers tracked the different emission sources, and found that road transportation is the most significant contributor, causing 53,000 premature deaths, followed closely by power generation, with 52,000.

The researchers noted that California suffers the worst health impacts from air pollution, in a state-by-state analysis, with about 21,000 early deaths annually, mostly attributed to road transportation and to commercial and residential emissions from heating and cooking. In addition, the researchers sought to map local emissions in 5,695 US cities. They found that the highest emissions-related mortality rate was in Baltimore, where 130 out of every 100,000 residents are likely to die in a given year due to long-term exposure to air pollution.

“In the past five to 10 years, the evidence linking air-pollution exposure to risk of early death has really solidified and gained scientific and political traction,” said Steven Barrett,  an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. “There’s a realization that air pollution is a major problem in any city, and there’s a desire to do something about it.”

These findings are in line with a new study from NASA that found a strong connection between pollution and population density. That study utilized satellite observations to calculate air pollution’s dependence on population for cities in the United States, Europe, China and India.

The MIT study found that a person who dies from an air pollution-related cause typically dies about a decade earlier than he or she otherwise might have. In looking at the effects of air pollution the team obtained emissions data from the EPA’s National Emissions Inventory, a catalog of emissions sources nationwide, to determine the number of early deaths.

The researchers looked at collected data from the year 2005, which was the most recent data available at the time of the study. From here the study’s authors divided the data into six emissions sectors: electric power generation; industry; commercial and residential sources; road transportation; marine transportation; and rail transportation. Barrett’s team fed the emissions data from all six sources into an air-quality simulation of the impact of emissions on particles and gases in the atmosphere.

While the study is based on data that is more than seven years old, Barrett said the results are likely representative of today’s pollution-related health risks.

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