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MIT study estimates ~7,500 early deaths per year in UK from PM2.5 from transport

Annual average PM2.5 concentration due to combustion emissions from (a) power generation; (b) commercial, institutional, residential, and agricultural sources; (c) industry; (d) road transport; (e) other transport; and (f) all UK combustion sources. Credit: ACS, Yim and Barrett. Click to enlarge.

UK combustion emissions of PM2.5 cause ~13,000 premature deaths in the UK per year, while an additional ~6,000 deaths in the UK are caused by non-UK European Union (EU) combustion emissions, according to a new study by researchers from MIT, published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Steve Yim and Steven Barrett found that the leading domestic contributor is transport, which causes ~7,500 early deaths per year, while power generation and industrial emissions result in ~2,500 and ~830 early deaths per year, respectively. They estimate the uncertainty in premature mortality calculations at −80% to +50%, where results have been corrected by a low modeling bias of 28%.

They also estimated the total monetized life loss in the UK at £6–62 billion per year (US$9.6 to 99.5 billion)—0.4–3.5% of gross domestic product (GDP).

For Greater London, where PM concentrations are the highest and exceed EU standards, they estimated that non-UK EU emissions account for 30% of the 3,200 air quality-related deaths per year.

Yim and Barrett derived a temporally, spatially, and chemically resolved emissions inventory for the UK (at high resolution) and the EU (at low resolution) suitable for use in a state-of-the-science atmospheric chemistry-transport model. They then evaluated meteorological and baseline air quality simulations to quantify the extent to which the modeling approach reproduces observed meteorological fields, total PM, and other species concentrations due to all emissions. To estimate premature mortality impacts, they overlaid sector-attributable PM concentrations onto population density, and multiplied the resultant exposure by a concentration−response function.

Approximately one-sixth of PM2.5 exposure attributable to transport (as a whole) is BC [black carbon]. This can be compared to 1−2% for other sectors and is indicative of the extent to which road transport has localized impacts due to the positive correlation between road transport emissions and population density. On the other hand, sulfate impacts of road transport represent 1% of the sector’s total PM2.5 impact, which can be compared to figures of 10% for industry to 62% for power generation. This is consistent with the low sulfur fuel used in road transport in the UK and the high sulfur coal-fired power stations in use. Taken together, these findings suggest further efforts to reduce UK power station SOx emissions should be assessed for their costs and benefits, while for road transport the planned reductions in allowable primary PM emissions may have significant health benefits.

—Yim and Barrett

Their analysis suggests that the public health impacts of road transport are likely to be 50% greater than fatal accidents as measured by attributable premature mortalities. However, they note that an air quality-related mortality is not equivalent to a fatal road accident in terms of life years lost on average. Approximately half of those who died on UK roads in 2007 were under 40, implying a loss of life of ∼35 life years per mortality, compared to the ∼12 life years lost per air quality mortality. In other words, road accidents are still likely to result in a greater loss of life years than road transport emissions.

The extent of transboundary pollution between the UK and other EU member states can be illustrated by noting that (i) one-third of premature mortalities in the UK caused by combustion emissions are due to emissions from other EU member states, and (ii) UK combustion emissions cause one- third again as many early deaths in the rest of the EU as they do in the UK. These results indicate that further policy measures should be coordinated at an EU-level because of the strength of the transboundary component of PM pollution, and that the EU as a whole is responsible for air quality in any given member state.

—Yim and Barrett


  • Steve H. L. Yim and Steven R. H. Barrett (2012) Public Health Impacts of Combustion Emissions in the United Kingdom. Environmental Science & Technology 46 (8), 4291-4296 doi: 10.1021/es2040416



For me the very first thing to do is to tighten up the relatively lax emission regulations on motorbikes and scooters.
They are relatively easy to electrify.

Secondly, the emissions from power stations and consequent deaths put into perspective Greenpeace's innumerate mauderings about the hypothetical risks from nuclear, if you close your eyes really tight, imagine the worst and then some, and move the decimal point a few places.

Clearly moving to nuclear would save several thousand lives a year, whereas a category 9 earthquake and a 14 metre tsunami has not resulted in a single death from radiation,


I almost thought MIT has a branch in UK. Isn't the University of London a better body to voice this concern, it consists of 19 separate university institutions, and 12 research institutes.


Well....well: will the truth eventually come out?

Is the huge increase in Autism cases (one out of every 29 male child in New Jersey, USA) related to our new damaged environment?


Adjusting for years of life lost conveys a somewhat false impression in this case, as although some crash victims may subsequently have years of ill health short of fatality, it seems to me that the impact on the predominently older people suffering from particulate damage short of mortality will be much more widespread.


Frankly gentlemen, I would rather see the intellect at MIT, Cambridge, Harvard, etc. go toward solving a far more pressing issue:

According to the World Health Org 29% of global deaths are due to HEART DISEASE - esp women. Followed by infectious disease 16.2%, and cancer at 12%.

Seriously. Did no one teach these beings to prioritize??


more diesel fun


I, for one, am looking forward to a more fuel-efficient Sudan.


most likely the enormous increase in Autism cases is due to vaccination. Peanut allergy is also linked to vaccines, as peanut oil is used in them.
There is an excellent book on dangers of vaccination:
Author: Tim O'Shea
Vaccination Is Not Immunization 2nd Ed. Second Edition (2012)

Quotes from the book:
"Before 1900, violent reactions to peanuts were unheard of. Today over a million children in this country (i.e. US) are allergic to peanuts" (page 72)

... US children are supposed to receive 68 vaccines by the age of 12 years.
Just in first 6 months - 22 vaccines. (page 55-56)

... The mercury in vaccines is in the form of thimerosal which is 49.5% mercury... There is abundant scientific proof that thimerosal can cause autism, and virtually any other neurological disorder as well. (page 147-148)

Nick Lyons

@Davemart: Amen. Nuclear hysteria is based (IMHO) on nuclear power's association--in people's minds--with atomic weapons, Cold War paranoia, etc. Nuclear energy, esp. throium-powered molten salt reactors, is the future of safe, green, cheap, abundant energy.

Roger Pham

Good point,MG. I've wondered the same thing about vaccination with mercury preservation. Plus all the mercury from coal combustion and from seafood. Fot the same reason, I've not gotten any flu shot in the last 20 yrs!


Another point is that with the prevailing winds from the West, the cross border pollution in other areas of Europe is presumably worse than in the UK, as they have the 'benefit' of our emissions.


I blame the 4 mpg buses, which are very good at spewing out huge clouds of soot at nose level on busy streets.

Kit P

I am not going to spend $35 read this study when there is so many BS studies to read for free. One of the studies the US EPA sites for claiming US coal plants contribute to 'mortality impacts' said that 50% of the deaths were over 75 years old.

Think about that. My wife and I are old people. We worried about the kids being killed in an auto accident not pollution, not radiation from a nuke plant. Getting old and dying is normal not a 'mortality impacts'.

The US EPA looks at air quality based on regional measuring stations and can be found at and the Weather Channel will also provide a local report. I frequently monitor this site looking for places where the air quality is above a threshold of harm which it rarely is.


Kit P:

You really do not distinguish between proper epistemological studies and alarms from the likes of Greenpeace.

This is rock-hard science by doctors, cardiologists and so on, backed by hospital admissions and mortality statistics.

The average loss of life in these figures is 12 years, less than from road accidents, but far from being exclusively the concern of the over 75's.


"Reel$$ = Seriously. Did no one teach these beings to prioritize??"

Apparently it is a serious problem, and perhaps easily addressed.

"Their analysis suggests that the public health impacts of road transport are likely to be 50% greater than fatal accidents as measured by attributable premature mortalities. "


Good points MG and Herm.

Other studies seem to point to hormones fed to most animals we eat and pesticides used on animal food and most food we eat. Others think that BBQ cooking and the multitude of food preservers we eat could have a major impact.

What we eat, drink, breath and all the medicines and vaccines we use could very well be relevant factors.

It is time to have a more serious look at all underlying causes because at the current increasing rate, one in every ten males could soon be born with serious handicaps.


Road accidents alone kill more people in the US than all it's 20th century wars.
So perhaps it is not folly to seek to address air pollution, which is twice as deadly.

Of course many deaths from air pollution present as cardiac arrest, so that adressing pollution addresses heart attack mortality in a fairly consirable way.

It is true that everyone dies of something, but the question is when.

Dismissing tens of thousands of deaths in the US and hundreds of thousands worldwide as not worth bothering about is lunacy.

Thomas Lankester

'Seriously. Did no one teach these beings to prioritize??'

MIT, Harvard etc. already spend far more on cardiac research than they did on this, or related, studies.

More to the point, applying your own 'logic', why is so much spent on car safety when air pollution is more of an issue?

Was all that money spend on airbag, ABS, seat belts and pedestrian 'friendly' frontal vehicle design wasted?

If you were really serious about improving cardiac health on a pure cost-efficiency basis then you'd not be advocating research but prioritizing on addressing the issues where the research is already in. Implementing saturated fat/sugar/salt taxes and getting people to get exercise on short journeys rather than drive would not even require 'wasting' any money on research.

And the blue sky stuff that gave us the WWW would be right out of the window. That stuff just never pays for itself...

Kit P

“My question was WHY does the American taxpayer have to subsidize a Japanese reactor?? ”

The US is the undisputed world leader in nuclear power. This is why the French and Japanese have invested in US companies. The American nuclear industry is not subsidized. We pay lots of taxes, a lot more than we get back. The investment in licensing the AP1000 has been paid back. During a period of high unemployment, engineers in places like Pittsburgh and Charlotte, NC have working on the detailed design of reactors for China. Paying taxes not drawing unemployment!

It is an American reactor designed by Americans.


The NRC is the most respected regulatory agency in the world. The market for SMR is in developing countries. Will the trust that the NRC provides result in a marketing advantage? Time will tell. The Russian are putting small reactors based on their ice breaker design on barges. Russia has many places where there is not a the massive grid like the US has.

Davemart did you read the study?

I checked our technical library at work, we do not subscribe to this journal. So I am wondering why you think I am wrong.

“This is rock-hard science by doctors, cardiologists and so on, backed by hospital admissions and mortality statistics.”


“Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics ”

Maybe that is where who find 'doctors and cardiologists' doing 'rock-hard science' at MIT. It looks like the MIT got some grant money for some grad students to do some modeling and write a thesis. Nothing wrong with that.

However as far as science goes we already know that high levels of pollution has health impacts. We also know how to engineer pollution control systems.

This week I helped judge a grade school science fair Yes there was a baking soda and vinegar volcano. Nothing wrong with that.

No, MIT is not advancing science. It is sad that they are not smart enough to be embarrassed with this press release.

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