Electric Cars Linked to Improved Air Quality and Respiratory Health

By Tamara Thomas - March 7, 2023

According to a study published in the Science of the Environment, adopting zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), or electric cars, is associated with improved air quality and respiratory health

A group of researchers from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine initiated a study to document the true impact of electric vehicle adoption on air pollution and public health. This study is unique because it uses real-world data to connect electric cars to their effects on environmental health.

Leveraging publicly available datasets, the researchers are analyzing a “natural experiment” currently taking place in California as its residents rapidly transition to electric cars.

For this study, the researchers compared information on the number of electric cars registered, levels of air pollution, and emergency room visits related to asthma across various regions of California from 2013-2019. They found that as more people switched to electric cars in a particular location, the levels of air pollution and related asthma emergency room visits decreased.

“When we think about the actions related to climate change, often it’s on a global level,” said Erika Garcia, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine and the study’s lead author. “But the idea that 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.”

The researchers also discovered that although the overall number of electric cars increased over time, adoption was significantly slower in zip codes with fewer resources, which the researchers call the “adoption gap.” This disparity highlights an opportunity to promote environmental justice in communities disproportionately impacted by pollution and the associated health issues.

“The impacts of climate change on health can be challenging to talk about because they can feel very scary. We’re excited about shifting the conversation towards climate change mitigation and adaptation, and these results suggest that transitioning to ZEVs is a key piece of that.” wrote Sandrah Eckel, PhD, associate professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine and study’s senior author.

The researchers also determined the proportion of adults in each zip code who had earned a bachelor’s degree. Educational attainment levels are often a marker to identify the socioeconomic status of a community.

For every additional 20 ZEVs per 1000 people in a zip code, there was a 3.2% decrease in asthma-related emergency room visits and a slight drop in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels. Furthermore, they found that ZEV adoption increased from 1.4 to 14.6 per 1000 people in California from 2013-2019. However, according to the researchers, ZEV adoption was significantly lower in zip codes with lower levels of educational attainment.

According to Garcia, while the results are encouraging, several questions remain unanswered. She recommended that subsequent studies examine other effects of ZEVs, such as emissions resulting from tire and brake wear, extraction of raw materials for manufacturing, and proper disposal of used vehicles.

“Should continuing research support our findings, we want to make sure that those communities that are overburdened with the traffic-related air pollution are truly benefiting from this climate mitigation effort,” Garcia said.

Source: Medical.net News

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