Air pollution causes 200,000 early deaths each year in the US, study finds

Aug 29, 2013 by Jennifer Chu

Researchers from MIT's Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment have come out with some sobering new data on air pollution's impact on Americans' health.

The group tracked ground-level from sources such as industrial smokestacks, vehicle tailpipes, marine and rail operations, and commercial and residential heating throughout the United States, and found that such causes about 200,000 early deaths each year. Emissions from road transportation are the most significant contributor, causing 53,000 premature deaths, followed closely by , with 52,000.

In a state-by-state analysis, the researchers found that California suffers the worst health impacts from air pollution, with about 21,000 early deaths annually, mostly attributed to road transportation and to commercial and residential emissions from heating and cooking.

The researchers also mapped local emissions in 5,695 U.S. cities, finding the highest emissions-related mortality rate in Baltimore, where 130 out of every 100,000 residents likely die in a given year due to long-term exposure to air pollution.

"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," says Steven Barrett, an assistant professor of at MIT. "There's a realization that air pollution is a major problem in any city, and there's a desire to do something about it."

Barrett and his colleagues have published their results in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

Data divided

Barrett says that a person who dies from an air pollution-related cause typically dies about a decade earlier than he or she otherwise might have. To determine the number of early deaths from air pollution, the team first obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency's National Emissions Inventory, a catalog of emissions sources nationwide. The researchers collected data from the year 2005, the most recent data available at the time of the study.

They then divided the data into six emissions sectors: electric power generation; industry; commercial and residential sources; road transportation; marine transportation; and rail transportation. Barrett's team fed the emissions data from all six sources into an air-quality simulation of the impact of emissions on particles and gases in the atmosphere.

To see where emissions had the greatest impact, they removed each sector of interest from the simulation and observed the difference in pollutant concentrations. The team then overlaid the resulting pollutant data on population-density maps of the United States to observe which populations were most exposed to pollution from each source.

Health impacts sector by sector

The greatest number of emissions-related premature deaths came from road transportation, with 53,000 early deaths per year attributed to exhaust from the tailpipes of cars and trucks.

"It was surprising to me just how significant road transportation was," Barrett 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' , whereas power plants are generally located far from most populations and their emissions are deposited at a higher altitude.

Pollution from electricity generation still accounted for 52,000 premature deaths annually. The largest impact was seen in the east-central United States and in the Midwest: Eastern power plants tend to use coal with higher sulfur content than Western plants.

Unsurprisingly, most due to commercial and residential pollution sources, such as heating and cooking emissions, occurred in densely populated regions along the East and West coasts. Pollution from industrial activities was highest in the Midwest, roughly between Chicago and Detroit, as well as around Philadelphia, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Industrial emissions also peaked along the Gulf Coast region, possibly due to the proximity of the largest oil refineries in the United States.

Southern California saw the largest health impact from marine-derived pollution, such as from shipping and port activities, with 3,500 related early deaths. Emissions-related deaths from rail activities were comparatively slight, and spread uniformly across the east-central part of the country and the Midwest.

While the study is based on data from 2005, Barrett says the results are likely representative of today's pollution-related health risks.

Explore further: Home cooking, traffic are sources of key air pollutants from China

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/… ii/S1352231013004548

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User comments : 16

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dogbert
2 / 5 (27) Aug 29, 2013
Another so called study where they just make up mortality rates.
Pseudo-science at its finest.
Gmr
2.3 / 5 (9) Aug 29, 2013
C-C-COMBO BREAKER!
tadchem
1 / 5 (7) Aug 29, 2013
Name them, please?
Modernmystic
1.6 / 5 (19) Aug 29, 2013
I wonder how many "premature deaths" would be caused without the industry that powers our society and produces the pollution...oh wait I don't need a study.

Pre-industrial population of America: roughly 4,000,000

Present day population of America: 316,560,694

Which is about 312 million premature deaths....I think I'll take the air pollution thanks.
antialias_physorg
4.4 / 5 (14) Aug 29, 2013
Which is about 312 million premature deaths....I think I'll take the air pollution thanks.

Erm..so your argument is that killing by shotgun is good because killing by nuclear weapon is worse?

Really?

Is that the type of logic you use in everyday life?
Gmr
3.3 / 5 (16) Aug 29, 2013
That is a stunning leap ModernMystic. Not a leap of logic by any means, but impressive.

Apparently the industrial revolution and its pollution somehow generated much of the immigrant influx the United States experienced in all the years in between, plus upping the birth rate.

I have to ask: what are you on, and is it in fact legal to take, and safe at the volume you imbibe?
Modernmystic
1.5 / 5 (20) Aug 29, 2013
Which is about 312 million premature deaths....I think I'll take the air pollution thanks.

Erm..so your argument is that killing by shotgun is good because killing by nuclear weapon is worse?

Really?

Is that the type of logic you use in everyday life?


No, because that's not the type of logic I used in my argument.

As to the industrial revolution...well of course it allowed more people to exist on the planet. Just like the agricultural revolution did. Your population maximum is a function of the technology you use to feed people and the medical facilities you have at your command.

If you don't believe me look at a graph for human population pre and post agricultural and industrial revolution....please don't take my word for it.

If you shut down all factories, power plants, and use of industrial machinery tomorrow you'd have the population we had before we obtained all those nasty pollution making things in short order.

Look up EMP pulse...
Gmr
3.5 / 5 (13) Aug 29, 2013
Ah. This explains why poorly industrialized areas of China and India have some of the highest non modern metropolitan population densities, and much of highly industrialized Europe is experiencing negative population growth.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (16) Aug 29, 2013
Ah. This explains why poorly industrialized areas of China and India have some of the highest non modern metropolitan population densities, and much of highly industrialized Europe is experiencing negative population growth.


What explains it?

NikFromNYC
1.6 / 5 (21) Aug 29, 2013
Reality check: the leading causes of premature deaths besides accidents and hospital mistakes are heart disease, diabetes and cancer, none of which are understood to be significantly impacted by smog. These are all highly correlated with income level however and low income also correlates with exposure to living near noisy highways, as Food & Health Skeptic John Ray has pointed out for years:

Term "social class": http://www.google...spot.com

Also, the EPA debunked pollution death claims:
http://john-ray.b...-of.html
PeterParker
2.7 / 5 (11) Aug 29, 2013
"Also, the EPA debunked pollution death claims:" - NikkieTard

NikkieTrd'ss source is Junk Science.com

That site is nothing but junk science and Republican ididocy.
RobPaulG
1.2 / 5 (17) Aug 30, 2013
Reading articles about FAKE science causes 1 million deaths a year.
packrat
1.7 / 5 (14) Aug 31, 2013
"Southern California saw the largest health impact from marine-derived pollution, such as from shipping and port activities, with 3,500 related early deaths."

I don't know about the rest of it but that statistic should be radically changed by now. Ports have seriously cleaned up their act in the last few years and ships can no longer enter ports while burning the nasty bunker type and high sulfur fuel oils. They have been forced to switch over to much cleaner burning fuels and the engines on those ships have had all kinds of pollution stopping devices added to them.
ubavontuba
1.4 / 5 (18) Sep 01, 2013
Air pollution causes 200,000 early deaths each year in the US, study finds
And yet people are living far longer than they did in pre-industrial times.

And their "science" isn't even correlated to the real world. That is, there's no indication (from this article) they even bothered to check vital statistics to see if real world results correlates with their supposition.

Sinister1811
2.5 / 5 (10) Sep 01, 2013
What about the respiratory illnesses caused by a lifetime of breathing smog? Lung cancers aren't just caused from smoking.
ubavontuba
1.7 / 5 (18) Sep 01, 2013
What about the respiratory illnesses caused by a lifetime of breathing smog? Lung cancers aren't just caused from smoking.
Sure, there's a known correlation, but judging from the article and freely available abstract, this "study" doesn't appear sufficient to trust its numbers.

And the EPA and various air quality management agencies have made significant strides in air quality improvement in recent years, especially in regards to particulate emissions.

The National Clean Diesel Campaign is a prime example:

http://www.epa.go...ndex.htm