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Electric Vehicles Can Help Clear the Air
Impact, Smart Cities February 7, 2024

The world is driving towards a new era of electric transportation. This is good news for fighting the climate crisis, and for protecting our physical health.

Transportation generates 29% of total greenhouse gases in the U.S., and is the largest contributor to U.S. emissions. More than 80% comes from cars and trucks that emit dangerous pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. Exposure to traffic emissions from busy roads is linked to respiratory issues, asthma, heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. In fact, more than 1 in 3 Americans live in areas with unhealthy air, and people of color are 3.7 times more likely to reside in these areas, according to the American Lung Association.

If the U.S. transitioned to selling 100% zero-emission vehicles powered by renewable energy by 2035, the country could prevent nearly 90,000 premature deaths, 2.2 million asthma attacks, and save $978 billion in public health benefits, according to a 2023 report from the American Lung Association.

Studies show how EVs impact air quality

Several studies have examined the impact of electric vehicles (EVs) on air pollution and public health. Since EVs do not have tailpipe emissions, this eliminates toxic pollutants like nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons from the air. While the manufacturing and electricity generation for EVs may produce some emissions, studies show that over the lifetime of the vehicle, total greenhouse gas emissions associated with EVs are typically lower than those for gasoline cars.

Researchers from USC’s Keck School of Medicine conducted one of the first studies using real-world data showing that electric cars reduce both air pollution and respiratory problems. The team found that every 20 zero-emissions vehicles per 1,000 people in a given zip code led to a 3.2 percent drop in the rate of emergency room visits due to asthma.

A recent UCLA study found that low-income neighborhoods face significantly higher pollution levels because of the higher volume of traffic. While EV ownership is currently higher in wealthier communities, EVs can improve air quality in all communities. The study recommends financial incentives for EV ownership and charging in low-income neighborhoods. Electrifying buses, trucks, and fleet vehicles will impact air quality across wider areas.

A Northwestern study found that if the Chicago region replaced 30% of combustion-engine vehicles (motorcycles, cars and trucks, buses, and trucks) with electric versions, it would save more than 1,000 lives and over $10 billion annually. The study also found that areas with mostly Black, Hispanic and Latinx residents would benefit most.

Electrifying transportation could improve public health by reducing air pollution from gas and diesel-powered cars and trucks. This would have the most impact in low-income neighborhoods exposed to exhaust from busy roads and freeways.

Using electricity generated by renewables does even more

Electric vehicles emit significantly lower emissions than gas-powered vehicles but you need to also factor in whether the electricity they run on is generated by renewable sources. The U.S. is making progress in increasing the amount of renewable energy on the grid, with a 55% increase in solar energy growth over last year.

You can check on the energy sources in your state and the impact on emissions below:

We can all do our part. Local governments can purchase zero-emission fleet vehicles for city services, transit, school buses and choose renewable energy to power government operations. Individuals can choose to purchase power from renewable sources and take advantage of federal and state incentives to purchase an EV.

The best solution to combat air pollution is to have fewer vehicles on the road. When you can, take public transit, walk, bicycle or carpool.

Learn more @  American Lung Association


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