A new study by the National Academies of Science published on Monday concluded that in 2011, the finest scale particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5) caused 107,000 premature deaths in the U.S. and cost the economy nearly $900 million dollars. The study’s authors, using data from the Environmental Protection Agency, calculated location-specific estimates of the damage from emissions in order to help policymakers identify the most effective strategies to mitigate and minimize the worst impacts. According to the study, of all the deaths:
- 57% of the deaths were associated with pollution caused by energy consumption such as transportation (28%) and electricity generation (14%), and 15% of them were associated with pollution caused by agricultural activities.
- 10% of total emissions — those concentrated in or near dense population centers — accounted for 40% of total economic damages
- 33% of damages occurred within 5 miles of emission sources, but surprisingly 25% of the damages occur more than 150 miles away, emphasizing the importance of tracking both local and long-range impacts.
The number of deaths associated with particulate pollution is “more than traffic accidents and homicides combined,” study co-author Julian Marshall, a professor at the University of Washington told CNN. “Seeing this should be a strong motivator to make improvements.”According to CNN, PM2.5 is very harmful because it gets stuck in your lungs and/or enter your bloodstream instead of being exhaled. Even these fine-scale particles, which are microscopic, cause harmful irritation and inflammation in the lungs and can lead to respiratory problems. The authors concluded that it is important to work to stop pollution at the source because the marginal damages of PM2.5 can vary greatly even within a single county.
Why This Matters: This study comes on the heels of the State of Global Air Report last week found that air pollution today is going to cause on average a loss of nearly two years of life span for today’s infants. It is easy to focus on the bad news. But this information is power. The knowledge that as individuals we are losing years of our lives due to air pollution ought to motivate us to do something about it now. And this study helps us to know how to mitigate the most harmful impacts of PM2.5 pollution in the most effective way. Now we need to act.