Air pollution from fossil fuels annually costs Americans an average of $2,500 in additional medical bills and contributes to an estimated 107,000 premature deaths, a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and health professionals concludes. (Grist)
A 2021 Harvard study makes a higher estimate: In the United States 350,000 premature deaths are attributed to fossil fuel pollution. The states with the highest number of deaths per capita are PA, OH, MI, IN, KY, WV, IL, NJ, WI. The study, “Global Mortality From Outdoor Fine Particle Pollution Generated by Fossil Fuel Combustion,” published in Environmental Research, is based on a groundbreaking analysis that enabled the researchers to directly attribute premature deaths from fine particulate pollution (PM 2.5) to fossil fuel combustion. Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy has immediate health benefits, including preventing premature deaths attributed to fossil fuel pollution.
Fossil fuel air pollution responsible for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide 02/09/2021 | Environmental Research. New research from Harvard University, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and University College London, found that more than 8 million people died in 2018 from fossil fuel pollution, significantly higher than previous research suggested—meaning that air pollution from burning fossil fuels like coal and diesel was responsible for about 1 in 5 deaths worldwide. In India it is about 30% of deaths of people over age 14.
The study, “Global Mortality From Outdoor Fine Particle Pollution Generated by Fossil Fuel Combustion,” published in Environmental Research, is based on a groundbreaking analysis that enabled the researchers to directly attribute premature deaths from fine particulate pollution (PM 2.5) to fossil fuel combustion.
“Often, when we discuss the dangers of fossil fuel combustion, it’s in the context of CO2 and climate change and overlook the potential health impact of the pollutants co-emitted with greenhouse gases,” said Dr. Joel Schwartz, Professor at Harvard Chan School and co-author of the study. “We hope that by quantifying the health consequences of fossil fuel combustion, we can send a clear message to policymakers and stakeholders of the benefits of a transition to alternative energy sources.”
The findings underscore the detrimental impact of fossil fuels on global health.
“The health gains we can achieve from getting off fossil fuels is twice what we thought it was yesterday,” said Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard Chan School. “The Global Burden of Disease study estimated deaths from fossil fuels numbered 4.2 million in 2015, but thanks to more rigorous science, we can now see that fossil fuels cause far more harm than previously understood. Now more than ever we can see the healthier, more just and sustainable world that climate actions can deliver.”
- Worldwide, air pollution from burning fossil fuels is responsible for about 1 in 5 deaths—roughly the population of New York City, every year.
- In the United States 350,000 premature deaths are attributed to fossil fuel pollution. The states with the highest number of deaths per capita are PA, OH, MI, IN, KY, WV, IL, NJ, WI
- Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy has immediate health benefits, including preventing premature deaths attributed to fossil fuel pollution.
- Exposure to particulate matter from fossil fuels accounted for 21.5% of total deaths in 2012, falling to 18% in 2018 due to tightening air quality measures in China
- In India, fossil fuel pollution was responsible for nearly 2.5 million people (aged over 14) in 2018; representing over 30% of total deaths in India among people over age 14.
- Thousands of kids under age 5 die each year due to respiratory infections attributed to fossil fuel pollution
- Karn Vohra, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
- Alina Vodonos, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA
- Joel Schwartz, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA
- Eloise A. Marais, Department of Geography, University College London, London, UK
- Melissa P. Sulprizio, John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
- Loretta J. Mickley, John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
The study was supported by the Wallace Global Fund, the Environment and Health Fund (EHF) Israel, and University of Birmingham Global Challenges PhD studentship.
Health care costs from fossil fuel use pass $800B — report Ground-level ozone also comes with a high price tag — $7.9 billion — and led to 795 premature deaths and more than 4,000 respiratory-related hospitalizations in 2002.
E&E News | Ariel Wittenberg The annual health costs of using fossil fuels and resulting extreme weather events from climate change total more than $800 billion, according to a new analysis. Hospitalizations, lost wages, premature deaths and even prescription medications caused by air pollution, heat waves, hurricanes, floods, pollen seasons and insect-borne illnesses all contribute to those costs, according to the report from the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Wisconsin Health Professionals for Climate Action. Particulate matter pollution alone, they estimate, created $820 billion in health care costs and killed 107,000 people prematurely. Ground-level ozone also comes with a high price tag — $7.9 billion — and led to 795 premature deaths and more than 4,000 respiratory-related hospitalizations in 2002. Natural disasters similarly drive up costs, with wildfire smoke causing 6,200 annual respiratory hospital admissions and 1,700 deaths from short-term exposures in 2010, all of which contributed to an estimated $16 billion in health care costs.
“Climate change is an underrecognized public health problem,” said NRDC climate and health scientist Vijay Limaye, who co-authored the study. The report, which evaluated peer-reviewed research into the health care costs of various types of pollution and disasters, is motivated by what Limaye called “gaps” in the way the federal government considers disaster costs. NOAA tracks natural disasters that exceed $1 billion but does not include health care costs in its analysis, for example. That’s in part because estimating health care needs resulting from natural disasters can be complicated. Heat waves, for example, can exacerbate existing cardiovascular and respiratory problems, but hospital intake forms or death certificates often don’t mention the temperature outside when listing a reason for seeking medical care or cause of death.
Mayors ‘reimagining public safety and policing’ in wake of recent violence One approach is to direct some 911 calls to mental health professionals rather than to police, said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, while other local leaders are eyeing stimulus funds for community violence intervention efforts.
Experts aim to dispel low-speed zone myths, a key hurdle to safer cities Low-speed zones curb traffic deaths and offer proven economic benefits, advocates argue. “The number of lives that can be saved with relatively small reductions in speed is just mind boggling,” said one World Bank official.
Pedestrian deaths had largest year-on-year increase in 2020: GHSA The Governors Highway Safety Association projected there were 6,721 pedestrian fatalities last year, a 4.8% increase from 2019’s mark of 6,412
Cooking With Gas Increases Rate of Childhood Asthma, Study Finds
The risk is similar to a child living with household cigarette smoke.
A new report from the Climate Council of Australia, Kicking the Gas Habit: How Gas is Harming our Health, looks at the hazards of the production of gas, including from coal seams and from shale gas, as well as the effects of cooking with gas in homes.1 It concludes “the direct health impacts of mining and burning gas increases the imperative to move beyond the technologies of the past and ensure access to clean, modern energy for all.”1
Outside the Home
There are many posts on Treehugger listing the problems of gas inside our homes, including piles of peer-reviewed research showing how bad cooking with gas is for your health. But this study also looks at what happens in the communities near where gas is extracted, much of it recovered through the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, where water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into the ground, creating openings that the gas can flow through. This uses a great deal of water which is often inadequately treated. But there is also significant air pollution:
“People living near unconventional gas operations may be directly exposed to airborne pollutants including volatile organic compounds and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons evaporated from wastewater, diesel fumes from trucks and machinery, and sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide from flaring. In addition, reactions between airborne pollutants from unconventional gas mining, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, can produce significant quantities of ground-level ozone.”
Inside the Home
The report looked at studies from around the world: “A US-based study found that not only did homes with gas stoves have around 50% to over 400% higher concentrations of NO2 than homes with electric stoves, but that indoorNO2 pollution from gas stoves often reaches levels that would be illegal outside.”1 There is also research that is specifically Australian, which Treehugger covered earlier, that found up to 12% of childhood asthma is attributable to the presence of gas cooking in the home.2 The study notes properly functioning modern range hoods can help, but do not eliminate the risk.1 And, as we have noted many times, properly designed hoods are rare, and “efficient range hoods with flues that vent outdoors are very often either not present or not used.”
The researchers compared the rates of asthma caused by cooking with gas to those from living in a house with smokers and noted:
“Many parents today wouldn’t dare to expose their children to secondhand cigarette smoke, particularly inside their home. However, many parents wouldn’t be aware the effect of gas cooktops on the burden of childhood asthma is comparable to the impact of passive smoking in the household.”
This report is from the Climate Council, so it is not a surprise its first recommendation is Australia should transition out of gas production, ban further unconventional gas development, impose strict monitoring for emissions, leaks, flaring, and dealing with decommissioned wells.1
“Australia must rapidly move beyond fossil fuels, both for domestic use and exports, including gas,” reads the report. “Renewable energy, backed by storage, offers the best path to affordable and reliable electricity for homes and industry. Over time, gas used in manufacturing processes can be replaced by renewable alternatives.”
In homes and businesses, they note newer technologies like induction cooktops and heat pumps make it much easier to go electric and gas users should be encouraged to switch. They go beyond just encouragement, with some serious carrots and sticks:
- Provide incentives for homes, schools, and businesses to switch to electric appliances, including subsidies for low-income households.
- Phase-out gas connections in new residential developments and remove any planning rules that require new residential developments to be connected to gas. This includes removing rules that restrict local governments from banning gas connections in new residential developments.
- Introduce planning rules and building regulations that encourage the installation of non-gas-powered heating and cooking–such as induction cooktops, reverse cycle air conditioning, or electric heat pumps for water–in all new homes.