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Air Quality

Published on September 5th, 2013 | by Jo Borrás


MIT Study: 200,000 Premature Deaths Caused by Emissions

September 5th, 2013 by  

After spending over 15 years surrounded by race cars, engine dynos, motorcycles, and loud, angry combustion-engines in general, it was easy to form a positive opinion on ethanol. Simply put, the engines (when tuned for the fuel) made more power, my eyes didn’t water, my throat didn’t hurt, and I never once felt faint or dizzy — even after a full day on the dyno. Years later, the use of ethanol as a fuel became politicized, which brought out a bunch of anti-ethanol hysterics who knew more about flipping channels than turning wrenches, but even the most ridiculous ethanol hater doesn’t like to talk about gas and diesel’s potentially fatal carbon emissions.

Still, I’ve always been curious: how many people actually die from those emissions every year?

Hold on to your hats, kids, because that 200,000 number up there in the title? That’s just part of it — the full report, courtesy of the super-brains at MIT, indicates the number could reach 360,000 if just a few variables swing one way or another. Here’s more on MIT’s new emissions report, below, from an article I originally posted to Gas 2.

MIT Study: Vehicle Emissions Cause 200,000 US Deaths per Year

Diesel Emissions Kill

In the past, we’ve written about the dangers of harmful emissions from diesels and the clear and present dangers of commuting. We’ve talked about the American Lung Association’s Minnesota division coming out in favor of cleaner-burning fuels, and we’ve talked about the Chinese government threatening to enforce emissions laws with the death penalty. Until now, though, we haven’t seen too much in the way of hard figures. Luckily, the big-brains at MIT have been crunching the numbers, and here’s what they came up with: 200,000.

That’s right. The research team from MIT’s Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment concluded that “ground-level emissions” from combustion engines like those in, cars, ships, trains, and more cause about 200,000 premature deaths each year, with another 10,000 or so Americans dropping dead from “changes in the ozone concentration.”

Visually, the MIT emissions data looks like this graph …

deaths by emissions data

… and the team behind the study explains the graph as a description of the “annual average concentrations of fine particulates from US sources of combustion emissions from (a) electric power generation; (b) industry; (c) commercial and residential sources; (d) road transportation; (e) marine transportation; (f) rail transportation; (g) sum of all combustion sources; (h) all sources,” but the short version is that emissions are concentrated with population, for the most part. That, and “lots of people are being killed by tailpipe emissions.”

Steven Barrett, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT 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. His data also indicated that the biggest killers were, of course, cars and trucks, with 53,000 early deaths per year attributed to tailpipe emissions.

You can check out the whole MIT report over at Science Direct — and, if you still think ethanol isn’t at least a step in the right direction, feel free to read this post again.

Sources | Photos: Green Car Congress, MIT, via Motorpasion.

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About the Author

I've been involved in motorsports and tuning since 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the Important Media network. You can find me on Twitter, Skype (jo.borras) or Google+.

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