Switching to electric vehicles could save hundreds of young lives and prevent millions of diseases, the report said


If the nation’s electric grid relied on clean energy and more drivers switched to zero-emission vehicles, hundreds of children’s lives would be saved and millions of children in the U.S. could breathe easier, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.

“Air pollution and climate change are putting children at risk today,” said report author Will Barrett, the association’s senior director of clean air advocacy. “The impacts of climate change continue to worsen, and that will only increase the risks that children in the United States face as they grow up.”

The report, published on Wednesday, found that children’s lives could be made much healthier if all new car buyers opted for zero-emission options by 2035 and people bought only medium and heavy-duty zero-emission vehicles, such as buses, ambulances and tractors. by 2040, along with a transition of the country’s electricity grid to clean and renewable energy by 2035.

Electric cars and trucks are better than gas cars vehicles because in the course of their they emit less CO2 emissions over their lifetime. According to U.S. Department of Energy calculations, electric vehicles create 3,932 pounds of CO2 equivalent annually, compared to 11,435 pounds for gas-powered vehicles.

Although battery-powered cars do not emit greenhouse gases through their tailpipes, they are not completely ‘zero emissions’, even though that is their official label. Emissions are still produced when the cars are built, when manufacturers make the cars’ large batteries, and when they are charged. Decarbonizing the electricity grid is an important part of cleaning the air. Without a clean energy source such as hydropower or solar energy, the benefits of an electric car are much more limited.

This latest report estimates that by 2050, a transition to zero-emission vehicles and a carbon-free electricity grid would mean 2.79 million fewer asthma attacks in children, 147,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis in children, 2.67 million fewer cases of childhood upper respiratory symptoms and 1.87 million fewer cases of lower respiratory symptoms in children, and the lives of 508 infants would be saved.

The research comes from a larger report from the American Lung Association, which says a major push for zero-emission vehicles would bring more than $1.2 trillion in health benefits to the U.S. by 2050.

Traffic is one of the largest sources of carbon pollution in the country, responsible for 28% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, followed by electricity production at 25%, according to U.S. government data.

Pollution is more dangerous for children, because their bodies are still developing and they have small lungs. They tend to take in more air than adults because their breathing is faster, and as a result their lungs and bodies are exposed to even more pollution. Children also spend more time outside – in potentially polluted air – than adults typically do, the new report says.

Pollution can damage a child’s health even before birth. Research shows that a pregnant person’s exposure can cause a baby to be born prematurely or have a low birth weight.

Premature babies can have significant health problems at birth and throughout their lives. They are at greater risk for breathing difficulties, heart problems, digestive problems, immune system problems and cognitive problems.

Even if a child is carried to term, exposure to pollution can lead to respiratory and heart problems; Exposure has also been linked to a higher risk of depression, anxiety and even suicide, studies show, for both children and adults.

Globally, 8.8 million people die prematurely every year due to air pollution, studies estimate.

According to the American Lung Association’s 2023 State of the Air report, many children in the US are exposed to high levels of air pollution. It says more than 27.2 million children live in counties that received poor marks for air quality.

“Anything we can do in terms of reducing emissions from transportation will be beneficial for both climate change and air quality issues,” says Dr. Daniel Horton, assistant professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern.

Horton, who did not contribute to the new report, has published a number of articles showing that billions of dollars could be saved and hundreds of lives saved even if just a few people switched to electric vehicles.

A 2023 study simulating neighborhood-level air quality levels found that if just 30% of all vehicles in the Chicago region were replaced with electric versions, it would save more than 1,000 lives and more than $10 billion per year due to fewer deaths from pollution. Another study, aimed at replacing 30% of heavy vehicles such as trucks and school buses in the Chicago region with electric versions, calculated that this would save more than 500 lives and provide approximately $5 billion per year in health benefits.

Communities of color often live in more polluted areas, regardless of income, and neighborhoods with high concentrations of people with limited incomes tend to be more polluted, studies show. This exposure to pollution exacerbates existing health inequalities.

“When we explore the question of what happens to people’s health when we switch to electric vehicles, we find that the majority of the benefits occur in underserved communities. These underserved communities are often people of color, predominantly Black or Hispanic communities,” Horton said. “And so we find that the adoption of electric vehicles is not only good for climate change, good for air pollution, but also good for environmental justice.”

Focusing on vehicles, in addition to green energy, could make a big difference in pollution levels. Although the number of electric vehicles on the road has increased significantly, according to government figures, only a fraction of vehicles on the road are electric: just over 5% in 2022.

Public health advocates have pushed for more financial incentives to encourage people to buy electric vehicles. And as more of these cars become available as used cars, Horton says, prices are coming down, and that should help, too.

The American Lung Association Barrett said stronger federal policies are also needed to bring about greater change toward cleaner energy. The Biden administration is expected to announce updated tailpipe emissions standards for cars and trucks in March, and regulations for power plant emissions in April.

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“We feel like the path we’ve set for this transition to zero-emission technologies is underway, but we still have a long way to go and there are some key things we need to see happen to make that transition a reality. ,” he said.

The Biden administration has indicated it could relax strict vehicle emissions rules it proposed last year to give automakers more time to meet requirements to create more electric vehicles.

Electric vehicles have become a hot topic in this election year’s politics. The United Auto Workers union, a key group that both presidential candidates must win in November, is sounding the alarm about how a shift to electric cars could cost jobs and reduce members’ salaries. Republican candidate Donald Trump has also falsely claimed that electric cars are “bad… for the environment.”

The American Lung Association encourages the government to create the strongest possible pollution standards.

“We want to ensure that these policies are finalized quickly by the government so that pollution from these very harmful sources can be truly reduced,” Barrett said.

CNN’s Ella Nilsen and Nathaniel Meyersohn contributed to this report.

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