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Auto Pollution Kills More People Than Auto Collisions Do, Research Finds

Automobile pollution kills more people than automobile collisions do. That’s the rather blunt way of wording the recent findings of a study on the subject done by researchers at MIT. To word it another way — a notably greater number of annual premature deaths in the US can be attributed to automobile pollution than can be attributed to collisions.

What the study tells us, is that the 34,080 American lives that were ended in 2012 by automobile collisions are completely eclipsed by the number of people who died as a result of the pollution from those same automobiles — 58,050. While the finding isn’t really a surprise, it does provide some hard data to back up something that is often overlooked, or even outright avoided, during discussions on automobile safety and use.

Image Credit: Smog via Flickr CC

Next City provides more info:

Authored by five researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the study found an estimated 200,400 premature deaths attributable to combustion emissions in the US last year. Of those, a bare majority were due to either road transportation or electric power generation.

The study primarily focused on what is known as particulate matter — essentially, things floating around in the atmosphere — and especially fine particulate matter, or particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less. These minuscule particles are most likely to cause illnesses like lung cancer and premature deaths more generally.

The researchers found 52,800 yearly premature deaths attributable to emissions related to road transportation, with a similar number — 52,200 — due to electric power generation. They also looked at ozone exposure, but found much lower numbers: 5,250 due to motor vehicles, and another 1,700 caused by electricity production. These represented just more than half of all premature deaths caused by fine particulate matter, with other large contributors being industry (40,800 deaths in 2005) and commercial and residential buildings (41,800 deaths).

Something to note, though, is that automobile accidents tend to claim the lives of the relatively young, while pollution tends to take the lives of the old. Obviously, though, air pollution affects the general health of everyone — so while it may not take the lives of the young, it does impact their health (including greatly increasing the likelihood of developing dementia).

The researchers address this by noting: “This means that car accidents may still be the leading cause of loss of life years, despite the smaller number of fatalities.”

The research also found that while deaths from auto pollution were largely concentrated around dense urban areas, early deaths tied to electricity generation emissions were “concentrated overwhelmingly east of the Mississippi, especially in the Allegheny and Appalachian Mountain regions, which have long traditions of burning coal for electricity.”

An added incentive for those regions to make the switch to renewable energy….

The new research was just published in the journal Atmospheric Environment. You can find the abstract here.

Image Credit: Smog via Flickr CC

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Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.


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