Cities and States Most Impacted by Early Deaths from Air Pollution

An MIT study finds 200,000 early deaths per year in U.S. are attributed to air pollution. The biggest source is vehicle tailpipes at 53,000. Most impacted state: California; most impacted city: Baltimore.
September 3, 2013, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The new data, released August 29, comes from researchers of MIT's Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment. In a state-by-state analysis, California fared the worst "with about 21,000 premature deaths annually, mostly attributed to road transportation and to commercial and residential emissions from heating and cooking", writes Jennifer Chu of the MIT News Office. On a city basis, Baltimore was the least healthy place "where 130 out of every 100,000 residents likely die in a given year due to long-term exposure to air pollution."

The study indirectly pointed to an advantage of all-electric vehicles. Skeptics of these zero emission vehicles are quick to point that the emissions are just shifted to power plants. This MIT study shows that when it comes to air quality, there is a major benefit to doing just because highway pollution is so harmful to public health.

“It was surprising to me just how significant road transportation was,” ays Steven Barrett, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT observes, “especially when you imagine [that] coal-fired power stations are burning relatively dirty fuel.”

One explanation may be that vehicles tend to travel in populated areas, increasing large populations’ pollution exposure, whereas power plants are generally located far from most populations and their emissions are deposited at a higher altitude. 

Of course, greenhouse gas emissions affect the planet - regardless of where they are emitted. However, transportation and air quality advocates need to remind the public that all emissions are important - 200,000 early deaths per year is a good reminder. The study, published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, is based on modeling "ozone and particulate matter impacts of the major combustion sectors in the U.S."

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Published on Thursday, August 29, 2013 in MIT News
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