A new report published by the American Lung Association examines the true costs of gasoline vehicle pollution. The general finding: gasoline vehicle pollution damages and destroys human life much more than most of us want to realize.
“I see the toll traffic pollution takes every day in my practice,” said Dr. Afif El-Hasan, a pediatrician serving Southern California, who also serves on the California Lung Association’s Governing Board. “When we talk about zero-emission vehicle policies, we must not forget that air pollution makes people sick.”
The report, Clean Air Future: Health and Climate of Zero Emissions Vehicles, delves into the two-fold damage from over-reliance on petroleum-based fuels — damage to our health and damage to our climate. The report emphasizes that petroleum-powered transportation costs California as well as other states billions of dollars each year when accounting for health and climate damages. The report examines costs of gasoline-powered transportation in California as well as the projected savings associated with a transition to ZEVs.
In short, it’s necessary for our well-being to halt “upstream” emissions. “Tailpipes emit harmful emissions that create ozone and particulate matter pollution, as well as greenhouse gasses, which cause climate change,” the report points out.
Air pollution wreaks havoc on the lungs. Once the lungs are depleted and toxic, that causes more problems. The effect carries over to all the major organs — perhaps most directly, the heart, the liver, and the kidneys and bladder, which must carry out some of the toxic matter. Essentially, the healthy cycle of life circulating between all the affected organs no longer runs smoothly or operates correctly.
From the report:
In the 10 ZEV States, the following estimated health impacts can be attributed annually to the ozone- and fine particulate matter (PM) generating emissions of the current (2015) vehicle fleet.
- 109,637 asthma attacks
- 220,199 days of work lost due to respiratory illness
- 2,580 premature deaths
- 1,895 heart attacks
- 1,868 ER visits and hospitalizations
“Under the report’s ‘ZEV Future’ scenario, 100% of the new car sales and approximately 65% of all cars on the road are assumed to be ZEVs by 2050 in the 10 states. Under this scenario, a conservative estimate of total health and climate change costs associated with passenger vehicle fleet pollution drops from $37 billion annually to $15.7 billion in 2050. … Annual pollution-related impacts drop by more than 85% due to fewer lost work days caused by pollution-related illnesses, fewer asthma attacks, and fewer premature deaths.”
It’s sometimes hard to put such large numbers in context, though. “To simplify: each tank of gasoline used in the 10 ZEV States is estimated to cause $18.42 in health and climate costs.”
The overall conclusions from the report, verbatim, were:
- Pollution from passenger vehicles in 2015 is estimated to cost $37 billion in public health and climate change costs, which translates to a hidden cost of approximately $18 per fill-up of a tank of gas across the 10 ZEV States.
- More than 109,000 asthma attacks, 220,000 lost work days and over 2,500 premature deaths are estimated to have resulted from passenger vehicle emissions in 2015 in the 10 ZEV States.
- The 10 ZEV States could experience over $33 billion in health and climate savings in 2050, avoid 195,000 lost work days, and prevent over 96,000 asthma attacks and over 2,200 premature deaths by achieving the ZEV Future
- The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by achieving the ZEV Future scenario in 2050 is equal to removing 34 million passenger vehicles from the road, roughly the same number of cars on the road today in the eight East Coast ZEV States.
- The health and climate benefits of achieving the ZEV Future scenario would be increased by an additional 40% if all the electricity used to power the ZEVs was generated from emissions-free renewable sources.
- A broad-scale transformation to ZEV technologies, including battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, for the entire transportation sector – along with a transition to renewable energy – is critical to meeting health-protective air quality standards and climate change goals.
- Adopting and implementing strong regulatory actions, combined with incentives, infrastructure expansion, and public outreach is needed to reach the ZEV Future scenario.
The key to change is to choose vehicles that do not impact health through their tailpipe emissions and their fuel production process (aka “upstream” emissions). The more governments can help with that transition and stimulate more interest in ZEVs, the more the health of their people will be improved.