A new study released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) shows that air pollution is prematurely killing off some 200,000 Americans every year, and the leading source of that pollution is vehicle emissions. In fact, some 53,000 deaths annually are linked to exposure to automotive exhaust. Following a close second is electric power generation, which accounted for 52,000 deaths.
“It was surprising to me just how significant road transportation was [as a contributing factor],” said Steven Barrett, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, in a statement, “especially when you imagine [that] coal-fired power stations are burning relatively dirty fuel.”
The study results, which were published in the scientific journal Atmospheric Environment, used information collected in 2005, but Barrett and his team say the data is reflective of current usage and trends. Other areas of emissions studied were industry, commercial and residential sources, marine transportation and rail transportation.
When researchers broke down the data and analyzed the health impact of air pollution by state, California topped the list for suffering the worst health effects from air pollution. About 21,000 premature deaths — or slightly more than 10 percent of all pollution-related deaths annually — occur in the Golden State, with emissions from road transportation and commercial/residential heating and cooking cited as the main culprits.
Most of the premature deaths related to electricity generation were in the Midwest and east-central parts of the U.S., where power plants tend to rely on coal with higher sulfur content.
The city with the highest emissions-related deaths was Baltimore, where 130 out of every 100,000 residents die each year from long-term exposure to air pollution.
Premature deaths were categorized as deaths occurring a decade earlier than expected. The research was based on data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Emissions Inventory.