Every year, 200,000 U.S. residents die 10 years earlier than they have to because of air pollution. That’s the staggering conclusion of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
A study team from MIT’s Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment published its findings in the journal Atmospheric Environment.
The study tracked ground-level pollution from six different emissions sectors:
- Road transportation
- Marine transportation
- Rail transportation
- Electric power generation
- Industrial sources
- Commercial and residential sources
By far, the most premature deaths attributable to air pollution come from road transportation, according to the study. The exhaust spewing from the tailpipes of cars and trucks causes approximately 53,000 early deaths per year.
“It was surprising to me just how significant road transportation was,” Steven Barrett, MIT assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics told the MIT News, “especially when you imagine [that] coal-fired power stations are burning relatively dirty fuel.” Power generation in fact causes the second most number of early deaths, with an estimated 52,000 occurring each year.
“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,” Barrett said. ”There’s a realization that air pollution is a major problem in any city, and there’s a desire to do something about it.”
The researchers used 2005 emissions data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Emissions Inventory for their study, which was the most recent information available at the time they began their work.
After loading EPA’s data into an air quality simulation, the team dropped out each of the six pollutant sectors under study one by one, allowing them to differentiate pollutant concentrations in the atmosphere. Overlaying this information onto U.S. population density maps gave the team a pretty good picture of what areas are most affected by which types of air pollution.
Barrett’s team determined that the sources of ground-level air pollution affecting your longevity will differ depending on where you live. For example, marine pollution affects southern Californians more than residents of other states due to the high volume of shipping and port activities in that area.
Residents in densely populated areas tend to suffer most from vehicle emission-related pollution. Think of all those commuting hours sitting in exhaust-laden traffic in areas like New York City, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., and it’s not hard to understand why.
Predictably, industrial pollution most directly affects residents near Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and along the Gulf Coast.
Baltimore has the dubious honor of being the city with the highest early mortality rate due to air emissions. After tracking local emissions from 5,695 U.S. cities, the study team determined that long-term exposure to air pollution prematurely ends the lives of 130 of every 100,000 residents there every year.
Sunny, health-conscious California turns out to be the state most affected by air pollution. State by state analysis demonstrated that about 21,000 Californians die before their time, primarily due to a combination of pollution from vehicle emissions and commercial/residential emissions attributable to heating and cooking.
Premature death at the rate of 200,000 every year is an incredible statistic. What will we do to stop that number from creeping ever upward? How will we get it back down? In an industrialized society such as ours, those answers are not easy to come by.
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