The social costs associated with air pollution from cars are huge. Not only do they result in premature deaths, but also in lost output. To measure this, a recent study analyzed road crash deaths and calculated a “value of statistical life” equivalent to $4.5 million per premature death. The same research found that an average hospitalization for cardiovascular and respiratory issues cost around $36,000. Sadly, these costs are a small fraction of the societal costs associated with air pollution.
The social cost of the impact of nitrogen dioxide on human health has been estimated at $15.6 billion annually. New Zealand experts commissioned a study in 2012 and this year’s instalment looked at the health impacts of car pollution. They found that car pollution killed more people than household fires and was even more damaging. This study also found that nitrogen dioxide from cars caused 13,000 hospitalizations and was linked to asthma in children.
Vehicles are the biggest source of air pollution in the United States, and are responsible for at least 26% of these premature deaths. Among those living close to busy roads, the risk zone extends up to five hundred meters. Within 50 meters of a busy road, the concentrations of PM2.5 are at their highest, indicating that exposure to car exhaust is killing thousands of people. The EPA says the number of deaths linked to air pollution is almost triple that of car crashes.
People who live in urban areas are at particular risk from car emissions. Those who spend 90 percent of their time indoors are more vulnerable. Chronically ill individuals are particularly vulnerable. These people are also at a higher risk of developing respiratory and heart conditions. Moreover, the harmful effects of air pollution are compounded by other causes, such as poverty, social inequalities, and lack of access to health care.
Research shows that drivers are exposed to more air pollution than cyclists and pedestrians. Asthma expert Prof. Stephen Holgate, chair of the Royal College of Physicians’ working party on air pollution, says children who walk or cycle to school are exposed to much less air pollution than children who drive. Increasing air pollution also stunts the growth of the lungs and increases the risk of asthma and other illnesses. And, it may even damage the DNA.
The clean air act was passed by the United States government in 1970, and federal, state, tribal, and local governments have invested years in combating this global threat. Today, the air in the United States is cleaner than it was 50 years ago, and the “State of the Air” report published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows this improvement over the past 22 years. However, new threats are increasing air pollution and the health risks associated with it. This report will examine these new threats and make recommendations to combat them.