Air pollution causes about 200,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year, with road transportation emissions contributing the most, according to a new study from MIT.
MIT’s Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment tracked ground-level emissions, including industrial smokestacks, vehicle tailpipes, marine and rail operations, and commercial and residential heating throughout the U.S.
Road transportation — vehicle emissions — was the top contributor to air pollution, causing 53,000 premature deaths each year. The second top air pollutant was power generation with 52,000 deaths per year.
The study is confirmation that exposure to toxic emissions could shorten a person’s lifespan by up to a decade, said Steven Barrett, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT.
“In the past five to 10 years, the evidence linking air-pollution exposure to risk of early death has really solidified and gained scientific and political traction,” said Barrett. “There’s a realization that air pollution is a major problem in any city, and there’s a desire to do something about it.”
A state-by-state analysis found California had the highest number of deaths due to air pollution. About 21,000 lives are cut short each year in California, with the majority of pollution coming from road transportation and commercial and residential heating and cooking.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 1 million Southern Californians have a higher risk of contracting respiratory disorders because they live within 300 meters of a highway.
Southern California also had the largest health impact from marine pollution, like shipping and port activities.
After analyzing local emissions, researchers pinpointed Baltimore with the highest emissions-related mortality rate. In Baltimore, 130 of every 100,000 residents will likely die in a given year due to long-term exposure to air pollution.
The emissions-related mortality rate from electricity generation accounted for 52,000 premature deaths per year and had the largest impact in the east-central U.S. and the Midwest. Researchers attributed this to more eastern power plants using coal with higher sulfur content than plants in the west.