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Air pollution causes 200,000 premature deaths a year

Posting in Cities

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MIT researchers tracked ground-level emissions from a wide range of sources and came up with some very sobering new data on air pollution’s impact on Americans’ health.

The team, led by Steven Barrett of the Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment obtained 2005 emissions data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Emissions Inventory, then split them into six sectors: electric power generation, industry, commercial and residential sources, along with road, marine, and rail transportation.

They fed the data into a simulation of the impact of emissions in the atmosphere, removed each sector of interest from the simulation, then observed the differences in pollutant concentrations.

Here are the numbers, according to the MIT New Office:

  • Air pollution causes about 200,000 early deaths each year in the U.S.
  • A person who dies from an air pollution-related cause typically dies a decade earlier than he or she might have otherwise.
  • Emissions from road transportation (vehicle tailpipes) are the most significant contributor: 53,000 premature deaths.
  • That’s followed closely by power generation, with 52,000. The largest impact was seen in the east-central U.S. and in the Midwest.
  • California suffers the worst health impacts: 21,000 early deaths annually, mostly due to road transportation along with commercial and residential emissions from heating and cooking.
  • After mapping local emissions in 5,695 cities, they found the highest emissions-related mortality rate in Baltimore: 130 out of every 100,000 residents likely die in a given year due to long-term exposure to air pollution.
  • Pollution from industrial activities (with sources like emissions from smokestacks) was highest in the Midwest between Chicago and Detroit, as well as around Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and along the Gulf Coast (proximity to oil refineries).
  • Southern California saw the largest health impact from marine-derived pollution (shipping and port activities): 3,500 early deaths.
  • Emissions-related deaths from rail operations were comparatively slight, and spread uniformly across the east-central part of the country and the Midwest.

The findings were published in Atmospheric Environment.

[MIT News Office]

Image: Steevven1 via Wikimedia

— By on September 2, 2013, 3:23 PM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure