Using data from the Environmental Protection Agency, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimate that about 50,000 premature deaths would be avoided every year if microscopic air pollutants called particulates were eliminated in the US.
Premature death and hospitalization are also extremely expensive for the US economy. The study estimates that eliminating such air pollution would save about $600 billion each year.
Burning fossil fuels are a main source of fine particulate pollution in the U.S. The new study is the latest reminder that climate change and public health are intimately related, and that cutting greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t just reduce long-term risk from global warming; it can save lives immediately by cutting pollution.
Fine particulates, also known as PM2.5 by scientists and regulators, are pollutants generated by the burning of fossil fuels, wildfires, and some industrial processes. They are about 1/30th the width of human hair, which means they can lodge themselves deep inside the lungs.
Worldwide, millions of people are estimated to die prematurely every year because of outdoor air pollution, the World Health Organization estimates. More than 1 million global deaths from fine particulate air pollution could be avoided in just one year if fossil fuel combustion were eliminated, according to a separate study published last year.
Air quality in much of the U.S is better than the global average. But the remaining pollution is still deadly, especially to those living in hotspots next to factories, power plants and highways. That includes a disproportionate number of neighborhoods that were shaped by government-sponsored housing discrimination.
Not all fuels are equally dangerous. For example, coal releases extremely intense pollution. But the U.S. is burning a lot less coal than it did even a decade ago. That has helped the electricity sector get a little bit cleaner, although the study still attributes about 9,000 premature deaths each year to pollution from power plants. Cars, trucks and other vehicles that run on fossil fuels account for about 11,000 premature deaths, the study finds.
Source: https://www.wpr.org/Tags: Air Pollution, Fossil Fuels, Global warming, USEPA, WHO