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June 08, 2023

Transition to electric vehicles could prevent thousands of deaths, illnesses in Pa. and N.J., report finds

If by 2035 all new cars sold in the U.S. are zero-emission, about 90,000 deaths could be prevented by 2050, according to the American Lung Association

A nationwide transition to electric, zero-emission vehicles within the next several decades would significantly improve Americans' air quality and health, according to a report from the American Lung Association.

"Driving to Clean Air," published Wednesday, found some stark figures. If by 2035 the United States is only selling zero-emission vehicles, 90,000 premature deaths might be prevented by 2050. That includes 6,700 prevented deaths in Pennsylvania and 3,300 in New Jersey.

As well, the country could save $978 billion via fewer premature deaths, asthma attacks and missed workdays. Pennsylvania could see 124,000 fewer asthma attacks and 616,000 fewer missed workdays, and New Jersey, which has been described as a leader in the transition to electric vehicles, could see 76,000 fewer asthma attacks and 382,000 fewer missed workdays.

The report explains that its results are based on the implementation of several factors on the state and federal level, like increased standards for engines, investments in infrastructure and funding for zero-emissions technologies. 

"Too many communities across the U.S. deal with high levels of dangerous pollution from nearby highways and other pollution hot spots," said Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association. "In addition, the transportation sector is the nation's biggest source of carbon pollution that drives climate change and associated public health harms. This is an urgent health issue for millions of people in the U.S." 

Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California found that, as parts of California have transitioned to zero-emission cars, pollution levels and emergency room visits have dropped

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that replacing gas-powered vehicles with electric cars in urban environments can significantly reduce air pollution. Exposure to traffic-related air pollution has been linked to coronary artery disease, heart disease, lung disease, asthma and respiratory illnesses in children, according to the Health Effects Institute.

Approximately 120 million people in the U.S. live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to the American Lung Association's 2023 "State of the Air" report. Low-income communities and communities of color are often disproportionately impacted by air pollution and transportation pollution, which can lead to adverse health effects like asthma, diminished lung function, adverse birth outcomes and some childhood cancers. 

About 21% of Philly children have asthma, a high rate that researchers say is driven by indoor and outdoor pollution, particularly for those living near busy roads or industrial facilities. Asthma can impact children's overall health and lead to lower academic performance, according to researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. 

A 2019 report from the city's Department of Public Health found a disparity in asthma-related hospitalizations among children based on race and zip code. Black and Hispanic children were about five times more likely to be hospitalized than white children, and the highest hospitalization rates were in North Philly. 

"There are very clear benefits of zero-emission technologies," William Barrett, national senior director for clean air advocacy at the American Lung Association, told CNN. "The transition to zero-emission technologies is critical as a whole but especially critical in making sure that we're targeting policies and investments and incentive programs so that all communities can take advantage of these health benefits and healthier transportation choices." 

The report recommends that states and the Environmental Protection Agency should adopt more stringent standards for new combustion vehicles and accelerate deployment of zero-emission vehicles

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