MIT Study: Vehicle Emissions Cause 200,000 US Deaths per Year

Diesel Emissions Kill

In the past, we’ve written about the dangers of harmful emissions from diesels and the clear and present dangers of commuting. We’ve talked about the American Lung Association’s Minnesota division coming out in favor of cleaner-burning fuels, and we’ve talked about the Chinese government threatening to enforce emissions laws with the death penalty. Until now, though, we haven’t seen too much in the way of hard figures. Luckily, the big-brains at MIT have been crunching the numbers, and here’s what they came up with: 200,000.

That’s right. The research team from MIT’s Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment concluded that “ground-level emissions” from combustion engines like those in, cars, ships, trains, and more cause about 200,000 premature deaths each year, with another 10,000 or so Americans dropping dead from “changes in the ozone concentration”.

Visually, the MIT emissions data looks like this graph …

deaths by emissions data

… and the team behind the study explains the graph as a description of the “annual average concentrations of fine particulates from US sources of combustion emissions from (a) electric power generation; (b) industry; (c) commercial and residential sources; (d) road transportation; (e) marine transportation; (f) rail transportation; (g) sum of all combustion sources; (h) all sources.”, but the short version is that emissions are concentrated with population, for the most part. That, and “lots of people are being killed by tailpipe emissions”.

Steven Barrett, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT says that a person who dies from an air pollution-related cause typically dies about a decade earlier than he or she otherwise might have. His data also indicated that the biggest killers were, of course, cars and trucks, with 53,000 early deaths per year attributed to tailpipe emissions.

You can check out the whole MIT report over at Science Direct – and, if you still think ethanol isn’t at least a step in the right direction, feel free to read this post again.


Sources | Photos: Green Car Congress, MIT, via Motorpasion.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.