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Cleaning up vehicle emissions saved lives and money, study finds

Researchers say thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars have been saved in the US thanks to recent cuts emissions from vehicles.

Harvard University researchers who study the environment and public health examined the effects of reducing vehicle emissions over a decade. They found the death toll had fallen from 27,700 in 2008 to 19,800 in 2017, and the economic benefits of reducing emissions amounted to $270 billion.

In a study published Wednesday on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers also concluded that if vehicles continued to emit air pollution at 2008 levels throughout that time, the total number of deaths in 2017 would be 2.4 times higher.

Light means of transport such as cars, pickup truck According to the study, SUVs create a large portion of the health burden that is relieved by stricter regulations for fossil fuel companies and vehicle manufacturers.

But the researchers found that these benefits were limited by a growing and aging population as well as by motorists buying larger cars and driving more.

Ernani Choma, an environmental health researcher at Harvard and the study’s lead author, said: “Despite significant progress in reducing emissions, this opposite effect is felt by the population. and larger vehicles. “So it’s going to be difficult to make significant progress, if we don’t enact more stringent policies.”

Although there has been previous research on the health benefits and economic impacts of emissions reductions, this study paints a more accurate picture of the level of emissions, according to experts not affiliated with the research team. impact of emissions on public health.

“Good environmental policy has dramatically reduced traffic emissions over the past decade,” said Sumil Thakrar, an air quality researcher at the University of Minnesota. lots of other moving parts. And I think the authors have done a remarkable job. “

The study also looked at climate benefits from reducing air pollution from vehicles, but found that those benefits accounted for only 3% to 19% of the total economic return. .

That’s because most approaches to reducing transportation emissions in the United States aim to limit air pollution, not air pollution. climate changeSusan Anenberg, associate professor of environmental, occupational and global health at George Washington University.

“The Catalytic Conversion, diesel oil particulate filters, filters that are removing pollutants from (the environment), but they are doing nothing for (carbon dioxide),” she said.

That’s one reason Choma and his colleagues recommend tougher policies to limit emissions. Another reason, he said, is that if upward trends in population, size and vehicle use continue, the same policies that produce the health benefits outlined in the study will no longer work. Future.

“If we look ahead to 2030 and nothing changes, you will only see a slight decrease” in vehicle emissions deaths, he said. “So that’s the case for more stringent policies.”

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