Cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles can lower asthma rates and other health problems, a new study finds.
Many states have backed out from implementing carbon emission reduction policies because of high costs involved. However, a new study suggests that the health benefits that comes from breathing cleaner air more than makes up for these costs. For the study, researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the U.S. They found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big - in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.
"Carbon-reduction policies significantly improve air quality," said Noelle Selin, an assistant professor of engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry at MIT in a press statement. "In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution."
Researchers noted that savings from reduces health problems could recoup 26 percent of the cost to implement a transportation policy, but up to 10.5 times the cost of implementing a cap-and-trade program.
"If cost-benefit analyses of climate policies don't include the significant health benefits from healthier air, they dramatically underestimate the benefits of these policies," said lead author Tammy Thompson, now at Colorado State University, who conducted the research as a postdoc in Selin's group.
Earlier this year WHO reported that air pollution exposure was responsible for 7 million premature deaths in 2012. Others statistics revealed that 40 percent of deaths linked to outdoor air pollution were from heart disease; another 40 percent from stroke; 11 percent from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); 6 percent from lung cancer and 3 percent from acute lower respiratory infections in children.
The statistics were quite similar for deaths linked to indoor air pollution. However, the number of deaths from COPD more than doubled due to indoor air pollution. Twelve percent of indoor air pollution deaths were among children with infections such as pneumonia.
"Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents noncommunicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly," said Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General Family, Women and Children's Health, according to ABC News. "Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves."
A previous study found that that even if we put filters on doors and windows as protection from outdoor pollution, 25 percent of it can still get indoors. Research suggests outdoor air pollution exposure levels have risen significantly in some parts of the world, particularly in countries with large populations going through rapid industrialization, such as China and India. In October 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released some pictures that revealed the smog problem in China was so dire that it can be seen from space.
Another study by Texas A&M University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory researchers revealed that air pollution in Asian countries is responsible for changing weathers and climate patterns. Increases in coal burning and car emissions are major sources of pollution in China and other Asian countries. Once emitted into the atmosphere, pollution particles affect cloud formations and weather systems worldwide, the study revealed.
The WHO's cancer research agency IARC published a report last year warning that the air we breathe is laced with cancer-causing substances and should be officially classified as carcinogenic to humans.
The new released statistics are a step toward designing a WHO roadmap for preventing diseases related to air pollution. The organization also revealed that it will soon be releasing indoor air quality guidelines on household fuel combustion, as well as country data on outdoor and indoor air pollution exposures and related mortality, plus an update of air quality measurements in 1600 cities from all regions of the world.
This research was supported by funding from the EPA's Science to Achieve Results program. Findings were published online in Nature Climate Change.