In Focus

Electrifying vehicles reduces air pollution, health burdens: study

Air pollution

Heavy-duty vehicles are a major source of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, and their emissions disproportionately affect marginalized communities

Electrifying heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) mitigates climate change and reduces air pollution, says a study published by the journal Nature, which focuses on the implications of transitioning 30% of predominantly diesel HDVs to electric HDVs (eHDVs) in the Chicago region.

HDVs are a major source of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, and their emissions disproportionately affect marginalized communities. 

The study used a high-resolution air quality model to assess the impact of transitioning to eHDVs on air pollution, health, and equity.

Data from the Chicago region, home to North America’s largest freight hub, was analyzed. The analysis considered changes in emissions from both vehicles and electricity generation units.

Air quality improvements

Transitioning to eHDVs leads to reductions in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations, which are harmful air pollutants. However, electrifying heavy-duty vehicles, while reducing some harmful pollutants and associated premature deaths, can lead to increased ozone levels.

Public health benefits

The reduction in NO2 and PM2.5 concentrations is associated with approximately 590 avoided premature deaths per year for NO2 and about 70 avoided premature deaths per year for PM2.5.

O3-related deaths

Despite the overall health benefits, the increase in O3 levels leads to approximately 50 additional premature deaths per year.

Equity impact

The most significant reductions in air pollution and health benefits occur in communities with higher proportions of Black and Hispanic/Latino residents. This highlights the potential for eHDVs to address environmental injustices and reduce air pollution-related health disparities in historically marginalized populations.

HDV-led pollution

Medium-to-heavy-duty trucks and buses contribute significantly to CO2 emissions and air pollution, including NOX and particulate matter (PM). Traffic-related pollution causes thousands of premature deaths and is linked to health issues such as asthma and heart disease. Marginalized communities, often communities of color, bear a disproportionate burden of HDV-related emissions.

Also Read : How to protect yourself from air pollution? – In Conversation with Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya