Nav: Home

Zero-emissions Boston could save 288 lives and $2.4 billion annually: BU study

April 23, 2020

Air pollution from just the City of Boston contributes to nearly as many deaths across the wider region as car crashes do, as well as non-fatal cardiovascular and respiratory disease and days of missed work.

With much of the City of Boston shut down by COVID-19, the region is enjoying better air quality than it has seen in decades, a preview of the reduced emissions that will come as part of the city's ambitious "Carbon Free Boston" goals.

But what if Boston eliminated all emissions--and not just because of a pandemic, but for good? That is the question asked by a new Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The study estimates that a zero-emissions Boston would mean over 200 deaths avoided in the city (and the rest of Suffolk County) each year, with reductions in fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular and respiratory illness extending all the way from Worcester to Barnstable and into southern New Hampshire and northern Rhode Island, with 6 deaths avoided per 100,000 people in the whole region--which the researchers note is roughly equivalent to the Massachusetts motor vehicle crash fatality rate.

"Public health and climate policymaking are intertwined," says study lead author Matthew Raifman, a doctoral student in environmental health at BUSPH. "While Boston's climate policies are focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, these actions will also likely reduce deaths and improve the quality of life of residents of Boston and the surrounding region."

The researchers also estimated that the resulting decrease in medical costs and lost/reduced work could save $1.7 billion in Suffolk County, and $2.4 billion for the entire 75-square-mile zone modeled in the study.

"In showing the substantial health and economic benefits that clean air can bring to Boston area residents, this study demonstrates that climate action isn't just about saving the planet; it's also about making us healthier," says study senior author Dr. Patrick Kinney, Beverly Brown Professor of Urban Health and professor of environmental health at BUSPH.

Raifman, Kinney, and colleagues used the US Environmental Protection Agency's Community Multiscale Air Quality model to estimate the 2011 emissions and air quality status quo for Boston and the surrounding 75 square miles, focusing on air pollutants known to harm health: PM2.5 (particulates with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, or 3 percent of the diameter of a human hair) and O3 (ozone). They then set the model's human-made emissions--including motor vehicles, generators, rail, industry, all oil- and gas-burning, shipping and boating, and residential wood fire--from within Boston's city limits to zero.

They found that a zero-emissions Boston would halve PM2.5 concentrations in the city itself, and slightly decrease concentrations for the rest of the modeled zone. Concentrations of ozone would also decrease across much of zone, although Boston and areas west of the city would actually see an increase in ozone during warmer months--which the researchers explain is because of the reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions that would normally transform ozone into other compounds.

The researchers then used the EPA's Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program (BenMAP) Community Edition v1.5 to estimate how these changes in PM2.5 and ozone would affect health at the county level. The health benefits from the decrease in PM2.5 would mainly override the health harms of increased ozone, resulting in 288 fewer deaths per year across the 75-square-mile area, mainly in Boston and the Greater Boston area. A zero-emissions Boston would also prevent 116 non-fatal heart attacks, 46 cardiovascular hospitalizations, 117 cases of chronic bronchitis, and over 17,000 asthma attacks across the zone, again mainly in Boston. However, the high ozone levels would increase emergency room visits for asthma and respiratory hospitalizations.

Looking at the effects by race and ethnicity, the researchers found that the greatest reduction in deaths and non-fatal health issues relative to population size would be in black residents, who the researchers note currently bear the greatest burden of environmental injustice and are more likely to live in Boston than any other area in the larger modeled zone.

The researchers estimated that the decrease in deaths, hospitalizations, days of missed work, and other benefits of a zero-emission Boston would translate to savings of $1.7 billion for Suffolk County, $182 million for Norfolk County, $159 million for Middlesex County, and tens of millions of dollars in savings for other surrounding counties in eastern Massachusetts and bordering states.

"In this study, we focused only on the City of Boston's climate action plan, but it's important to note that Boston's actions will not occur in a vacuum," Raifman says. "Many cities across the region are pursuing similar climate goals. The sum may be different from the parts."
-end-
About the Boston University School of Public Health

Founded in 1976, the Boston University School of Public Health is one of the top five ranked private schools of public health in the world. It offers master's- and doctoral-level education in public health. The faculty in six departments conduct policy-changing public health research around the world, with the mission of improving the health of populations--especially the disadvantaged, underserved, and vulnerable--locally and globally.

Boston University School of Medicine

Related Air Pollution Articles:

Exploring the neurological impact of air pollution
Air pollution has become a fact of modern life, with a majority of the global population facing chronic exposure.
Spotting air pollution with satellites, better than ever before
Researchers from Duke University have devised a method for estimating the air quality over a small patch of land using nothing but satellite imagery and weather conditions.
Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy is associated with growth delays
A new study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) has found an association between exposure to air pollution during pregnancy and delays in physical growth in the early years after birth.
Nearly half of US breathing unhealthy air; record-breaking air pollution in nine cities
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of air pollution on lung health is of heightened concern.
Air pollution linked to dementia and cardiovascular disease
People continuously exposed to air pollution are at increased risk of dementia, especially if they also suffer from cardiovascular diseases, according to a study at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden published in the journal JAMA Neurology.
New framework will help decide which trees are best in the fight against air pollution
A study from the University of Surrey has provided a comprehensive guide on which tree species are best for combating air pollution that originates from our roads -- along with suggestions for how to plant these green barriers to get the best results.
Air pollution is one of the world's most dangerous health risks
Researchers calculate that the effects of air pollution shorten the lives of people around the world by an average of almost three years.
The world faces an air pollution 'pandemic'
Air pollution is responsible for shortening people's lives worldwide on a scale far greater than wars and other forms of violence, parasitic and insect-born diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and smoking, according to a study published in Cardiovascular Research.
Air pollution in childhood linked to schizophrenia
Children who grow up in areas with heavy air pollution have a higher risk of developing schizophrenia.
Air pollution can worsen bone health
A new study by the CHAI Project with over 3,700 people in India associates air pollution with a higher risk to develop osteoporosis.
More Air Pollution News and Air Pollution Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.