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Study estimates that PM2.5 pollution in US was responsible for 107,000 premature deaths in 2011; 28% associated with transportation

A new study by a team from the University of New Mexico, University of Washington and the University of Minnesota examines the health and economic impacts of PM2.5 pollution (particulates and precursors) in the United States.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the study estimates that anthropogenic PM2.5 was responsible for 107,000 premature deaths in 2011, at a cost to society of $886 billion. Of these deaths, 57% were associated with pollution caused by energy consumption [e.g., transportation (28%) and electricity generation (14%)]; another 15% with pollution caused by agricultural activities.

Goodkind

Total damages and attributable premature mortality associated with anthropogenic emissions in 2011 ($ billions) by sector, pollutant, and emission height. Goodkind et al.

A small fraction of emissions, concentrated in or near densely populated areas, plays an outsized role in damaging human health with the most damaging 10% of total emissions accounting for 40% of total damages, the researchers found.

33% of damages occur within 8 km of emission sources, but 25% occur more than 256 km away, emphasizing the importance of tracking both local and long-range impacts.

PM2.5 atmospheric particles have a diameter of only 2.5 micrometers or smaller and often carry microscopic solid or liquid drops leftover from when they were formed during complex chemical reactions and can sometimes contain dangerous elements. Their small, light nature allows them to stay in the air longer than heavier particles, increasing the possibility of being inhaled and settling into the lungs or bloodstream.

The impact of particulate matter air pollution is enormous even in countries with relatively good air quality like the US. There is still substantial room for improvement to the public health from reducing emissions, even though we have dramatically improved our air quality over the last 40 years.

Sources in the same urban area, releasing the same quantity of emissions, can have orders of magnitude difference in their impacts on health. Identifying those sources with the largest impacts can help improve our decision making about how to reduce pollution.

—University of New Mexico economics professor Andrew Goodkind

The team developed a model for calculating location-specific damages due to primary PM2.5 and PM2.5 precursor emissions. Based on the extensive modeling efforts, the researchers are able to rapidly identify the impact of releasing emissions from any location in the US.

They then applied the tool to the US emissions inventory to understand better the contribution of each economic sector on reduced air quality. Such information will be critical in assisting policymakers who are deciding how and where to prioritize pollution mitigation efforts.

Moving forward, the researchers want to focus more directly on certain sectors of the economy where emission reductions have been limited.

Resources

  • Andrew L. Goodkind et al. (2019) “Fine-scale damage estimates of particulate matter air pollution reveal opportunities for location-specific mitigation of emissions” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doi: 10.1073/pnas.1816102116

Comments

HarveyD

Not overly surprised that we are slowly but surely reducing life expectancy of most living creatures with various air pollution and 101 other different ways.

If we continue, we will quickly lose what we gained in the last 150 to 200 years? Is a reduction of life expectancy from 80+ years to 40+ years part of the solution?

Engineer-Poet
Of these deaths, 57% were associated with pollution caused by energy consumption [e.g., transportation (28%) and electricity generation (14%)]

Looks like nuclear power could get rid of the 14% from electrical generation and also about 2/3 of the 28% from transportation (PHEVs).  Getting rid of 32% of such a major problem would be a coup.

Lad

From my reading, nuclear power would be great science if they could use all the spent fuel safely and down to a safe radiation level. Building a plant and using the current expensive fuel takes nuclear out of the equation except for unique applications.

Engineer-Poet

The threat from radiation, and thus from fission anything, is grossly over-stated; the work for which Herman Muller got his Nobel prize was straight-up fraudulent in the extension to low doses and dose rates.  If you just button up used fuel in stainless casks with concrete shields, it'll be safe to handle with nothing more than gloves in about 300 years.  Concrete can last that long if it its reinforcement is made of something that doesn't corrode (e.g. basalt fiber).  After 300 years the major threat is heavy-metal poisoning.  Actinide oxides have poor solubility in water, so water contamination isn't a real problem.  Only safety measure required:  don't eat it.

However, casks full of slightly-used LEU are a problem that should not exist as they represent a nigh-criminal waste of valuable resources.  The typical used fuel pin contains roughly 1% U-235 and 0.8% Pu isotopes, with some other actinides as well.  All of those are fuel for a fast-spectrum reactor, and the remaining ~95% U-238 and trace U-236 are either fertile material, fissionable in a fast spectrum, or both.

The USA uses approximately 3.3 TW(thermal) of raw energy.  At 0.32 t/GW-yr(th) all US energy consumption could be met using about 1060 tons of natural, reclaimed or depleted uranium per year.  This would yield less than 100 tons of long-lived fission products per year.  Isolating so little material, even for geologic time, would be neither difficult nor expensive.  Some of it even has valuable industrial, medical and other uses.  We're being utter fools to just throw it away.

HarveyD

NPPs could certainly reduce air pollution from CPPs, NGPPs and ICEVs but four main problems remain to be solved:

1) Initial building cost is much too high. France's latest NPP started in 2007 at an estimated cost of $3.7B is going up past $12.5B and will not be finished before 2023/2025. The two new units in UK are having similar problems.

2) Time to plan, design, build, fix and commission is much too long. The new unit in France will take close to 17 years.

3) Acceptable, safe, adequate, low cost, long term management of used fuels has not been solved. France and Canada have been looking for save methods/places for the last 4+ years without success.

4) Lack of general public acceptance. The nuclear industry will have to stop building NPPs in risky places and use more resources to inform the public at large.

Engineer-Poet
France's latest NPP started in 2007 at an estimated cost of $3.7B is going up past $12.5B and will not be finished before 2023/2025.

Taishan 1:  ground broken July 2008, first concrete October 2009, grid connection June 2018, commercial operation December 2018.  Taishan 2 is on track to go on-line this year.

That's for an EPR, likely THE most complex PWR design ever built and ever will be.  Not only that, it was the first of its kind to be completed.  So, AlzHarvey... are the Chinese magicians, or do they just not have the burden of dealing with "green" political opposition fronting for the coal and gas industries?

We built nuclear plants fast and cheap before.  We can do it again.  All we have to do is shoot the Greens and their fossil-interest financiers.

HarveyD

I agree that China builds streets, roads, highways, bridges, ultra high speed e-trains, e-buses, e-trucks, e-vehicles, dams, NPPs, high rise buildings etc about 3 times faster and for 50+% less $$ than in USA and EU.

That may be why China is leading the world in so many fields?

Engineer-Poet

China is not suffering under twin plagues of rent-seekers and "diversity".

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