Research highlight

Environmental sciences: Air pollution exchange between neighbouring US states


February 13, 2020

In the United States around half of air-quality-related deaths in an individual state can be attributed to emissions that occurred outside that state. The findings, based on data from the 48 contiguous US states from 2005 to 2018, are published in Nature.

Long-term exposure to pollutants such as fine particulate matter and ozone can lead to an increased risk of premature death. Mitigation of air pollution has largely focused on local air quality and pollution sources; however, emissions from more distant sources, such as neighbouring states, also have an effect.

Steven Barrett and colleagues estimated pollution exchange between the 48 contiguous US states and assessed the impact on premature mortality as a result of emissions from seven sectors in 2005, 2011 and 2018. The sectors analysed were electric power generation, industry, commercial/residential, road transportation, marine, rail and aviation. The authors found that the percentage of emissions-related deaths that occurred outside the emitting state decreased, from 53% in 2005, to 45% in 2011 and 41% in 2018. In all three years, New York was found to have the highest number of premature deaths on both a per-capita and an absolute basis owing to emissions from other states. Emissions from electric power generation had the highest out-of-state impact as a fraction of their total. However, with reductions in emissions from this sector, they estimate that by 2018 there were approximately 13,000 fewer out-of-state early deaths compared to 2005.

The authors propose that a cooperative approach between states is needed to meet air-quality targets.

doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-1983-8

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