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It is now common knowledge that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would help mitigate the severe impacts of climate change. But how can eliminating air pollution emissions benefit the USA specifically?
A recent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers found that eliminating air pollution emissions from energy-related activities in the United States can help prevent over 50,000 premature deaths per year. The elimination of air pollution emissions will also provide approximately $600 billion in benefits from avoided deaths and diseases per year.
The study was published on 16th May 2022 in the journal GeoHealth. The study examines the health benefits of removing toxic air particulates released into the atmosphere by electricity generation, industrial activity, transportation, and building functions like cooking and heating.
Nick Mailloux is the study’s lead author and a graduate student at the Centre of Sustainability and Global Environment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Sciences. According to him, the study provides a sense of the scale of the air quality health benefits that could accompany the deep decarbonization of the United States energy system. He further adds that shifting to more clean energy sources can result in several benefits for public health in the near term while tackling climate change in the longer term.
Experts specializing in air quality and public health, including Nick Mailloux, used a US Environmental Protection Agency model to calculate the benefits of the elimination of toxic air pollutants. Nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions can together form particulate matter once released into the air.
The pollutants can cause severe health issues like heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, lower respiratory infections, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Reducing or removing these pollutants can help save around 53,200 lives every year in the United States.
The researchers also examined the health impacts if certain regions of the United States were to act independently to eliminate emissions. The health effects can differ widely in different parts of the country due to regional variations in energy production and use. In the Southwest, regions of California, Nevada, and Arizona would maintain about 95 percent of the health benefits if acted independently to remove fine particulate emissions.
However, every region in the United States sees much more benefits from a nationwide effort than from acting independently to eliminate emissions. Researchers hope that publishing the study will motivate further research and eventually encourages drastic climate change action.