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Electric cars really do reduce air pollution and boost public health: study

Scientists said asthma attacks and other respiratory problems fall as more electric cars are on the road.

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An electric car parked at a charging station. (Photo by Kindel Media via Pexels)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Electric cars really do reduce air pollution and boost public health, according to new research.

Asthma attacks and other respiratory problems fall as uptake rises, say scientists.

The findings are based on the first "real world study" of its kind - looking at the controversial vehicles' impact on individual neighborhoods.

Lead author Dr. Erika Garcia, of the University of Southern California, said: "When we think about the actions related to climate change, often it's on a global level.

"But the idea changes being made at the local level can improve the health of your own community could be a powerful message to the public and to policymakers."

It has been claimed that heavier motors will increase carbon emissions - offsetting gains from switching from petrol and diesel ones.

The theory is wear from brake linings and tires may be greater than with petrol because of the weight of the battery - generating more harmful fine particles.

Leveraging publicly available datasets, the researchers analyzed a "natural experiment" as residents in California rapidly transitioned to electric cars or ZEVs light-duty zero-emissions vehicles.

At zip code level, for every additional 20 per 1,000 people, asthma emergencies dropped by 3.2 percent.

Federal air monitoring sites showed levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), an air pollutant caused by traffic, also fell.

As average ZEV adoption increased from an average of 1.4 to 14.6 per 1,000 people within a given zip code between 2013 and 2019, local air pollution levels and emergency room visits fell.

Asthma is one of the health concerns long linked with air pollutants such as NO2, which can also cause and exacerbate other respiratory diseases, as well as problems with the heart, brain and other organs.

The researchers also found take-up was considerably slower in low-resource zip codes - dubbed the 'adoption gap.'


It points to an opportunity to restore environmental justice in communities that are disproportionately affected by pollution and related health problems.

Senior author Professor Sandrah Eckel, from the same lab, said: "The impacts of climate change on health can be challenging to talk about because they can feel very scary.

"We are excited about shifting the conversation towards climate change mitigation and adaptation, and these results suggest transitioning to ZEVs is a key piece of that."

Previous research has shown that deprived individuals tend to face worse pollution and associated respiratory problems than more affluent peers.

If ZEVs replace gas-powered cars in those neighborhoods, they could stand to benefit substantially.

Dr. Garcia said: "Should continuing research support our findings, we want to make sure communities overburdened with traffic-related air pollution are truly benefiting from this climate mitigation effort."

Global warming is a massive health threat. Mitigating it offers a huge public health opportunity, Prof Eckel said.

Future studies should consider additional impacts of ZEVs, including emissions related to brake and tire wear, mining of materials for their manufacture and disposal of old cars, said Dr. Garcia.

Electric cars are typically about 20 to 30 percent heavier than their petrol or diesel counterparts.

The researchers also hope to study additional types of pollutants and other classes of vehicles, in addition to conducting a follow-up study of the effects of the ever-growing share of ZEVs in the state.

They obtained data on ZEVs, which include battery electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell cars, from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

A neighborhood’s socioeconomic status was calculated using the proportion of residents with a bachelor's degree.

Moving forward, transitioning to ZEVs is just one part of the solution, Prof Eckel said. Shifting to public transport and active transport, including walking and biking, are other key ways to boost environmental and public health.

The study is in the journal Science of The Total Environment.

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