MIT Study: Vehicle Emissions Cause 58,000 Premature Deaths Yearly in U.S.

Just when you thought it was safe to breathe, a pair of studies underscore the grave threat that air pollution poses to public health.

Air pollution from cars claims more than 58,000 lives in the U.S. every year, according to new research from MIT. Image: ##http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/5125184/Traffic-pollution-can-harm-babies-in-the-womb-claim-researchers.html## The Telegraph##

According to new research from MIT, in 2005 air pollution accounted for a staggering 200,000 premature deaths in the United States, more than 58,000 of which can be attributed to vehicle emissions. Air pollution-related mortality shortened the average victim’s lifespan by 12 years, the study estimates.

The research team used air quality modeling and epidemiological evidence to estimate the mortality effects of six polluting sectors across the United States. Vehicle emissions caused more deaths than any other category of polluter. The next greatest killer was power generation emissions — 54,000 deaths — and industrial emissions — 43,000.

Though city dwellers typically have a smaller emissions footprint per capita, the concentration of people and activities make major East Coast cities the worst for deadly vehicle pollution. In Baltimore, air pollution-related deaths were the highest in the country, at 130 per 100,000 residents. New York and Washington, DC, also have alarmingly high levels of fine particle pollution. Meanwhile, people who live in heavily industrial areas are vulnerable as well. Donaldsonville, Louisiana, with its nine oil refineries, has the highest rate of mortality related to fine particle pollution in the U.S.

“The results are indicative of the extent to which policy measures could be undertaken in order to mitigate the impact of specific emissions from different sectors,” wrote lead author Fabio Caiazzo and his team, “in particular black carbon emissions from road transportation and sulfur dioxide emissions from power generation.”

As troubling as these findings are, they’re not too far out of line with other research on the topic. In 2010, the EPA estimated that there were 160,000 premature deaths due to fine particle pollution alone. An additional 4,300 deaths were attributed to ozone pollution.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization recently added air pollution to its list of carcinogens. The WHO’s determination comes from experts at its International Agency for Research on Cancer, who, after reviewing thousands of studies, concluded air pollution could be linked to both lung and bladder cancer [PDF].

“The air most people breathe has become polluted with a complicated mixture of cancer-causing substances,” Kurt Straif of the IARC told the Associated Press. He added that the WHO now considers air pollution “the most important environmental carcinogen,” ahead of second-hand smoke.

  • Ian Turner
  • JamesR

    My understanding is that particulates (PM 2.5) are really the culprit when it comes to vehicle pollution, and that these are a byproduct of diesel (truck) exhaust. Modern automobile emissions equipment is actually very effective, but with trucks subject to a different set of regs than cars, they’re the main culprit. Here in NY, part of the problem is the tremendous reliance on diesel trucks for transport because the freight rail network is so weak here. We need to get these behemoths off the roads one way or another.

  • ? Fewer vehicle miles traveled have lowered the collisions death rate from 40,000/yr to 30,000yr. Perhaps the same is true of emissions.

  • Tire dust is also a huge source of particulates, though.

  • Kevin

    I agree diesel exhaust is terrible but your saying modern automobile exhaust is harmless? Give me a break.

  • Anonymous

    brake dust too!

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Its true that diesel is a big source but it’s not diesel cars and trucks it’s mostly off road equipment. On the other hand cooking meat is a far larger source or pm25 than any kind of engine. Burning wood is also a major source.

  • True Freedom

    Concentration of emissions is one of my primary arguments against LA’s push to create high density housing units. Even studies most favorable to high density infill development cite a 30% reduction in per capita VMT with a doubling of density. Now, you have 2x people driving 0.7 as much, resulting in a 40% INCREASE in total local miles traveled. Yes, this is great for the earth.. because those new residents might have driven more if they lived in a less dense area; however, with 40% more LOCAL miles traveled, we have more concentrated emissions, which is much worse for the people who have to breath that air.

  • Anonymous

    Yuck. The lazy people that won’t get out of their cars and walk half a mile to the grocery store are literally shaving time off my life.

  • Michael Ciampa

    Get off the computer or device, do you have any idea how much emission went into making that thing you’re using to complain about the same problem.

  • Pat

    I constantly read statements that x number of deaths are caused by auto emissions but never any explanation of how one knows that the causal factor is actually true. It may be, but like so many things that are accepted without question, it makes me wonder. Can you give me any citations?

  • Tyson White

    There’s a link in the second paragraph to the study. Read the study and it will answer your question how the cause is determined.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Centers for Disease Control: Transportation Reform is Health Reform

|
The connection between transportation and public health has slowly edged into the mainstream since Streetsblog Capitol Hill began covering it last year, first through a billion-dollar grant program added to Congress’ sprawling health care bill and now in a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) brief that connects existing U.S. infrastructure with chronic disease, obesity, and […]

What’s the Best Way to Make Biking Mainstream in a Car-Centric City?

|
How can you turn a car-dependent city into a place where most people feel safe cycling for transportation? Researchers in Auckland, New Zealand, created a predictive model to assess how different policies affect cycling rates over several years. In a paper published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives [PDF], they concluded that a combination of protected […]

Measuring the Global Health Impact of Transportation Reform

|
The relationship between active transportation and public health can seem so plainly obvious that we tend to take it for granted. Who could question that air pollution, obesity, and road fatalities are major public health concerns that have a direct connection to the availability of safe and convenient travel options other than driving? But as […]

Measuring the Global Health Impact of Transportation Reform

|
The relationship between active transportation and public health can seem so plainly obvious that we tend to take it for granted. Who could question that air pollution, obesity, and road fatalities are major public health concerns that have a direct connection to the availability of safe and convenient travel options other than driving? But as […]