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Study: Hundreds in Md. Die Prematurely From Vehicle Emissions

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Traffic on the Capital Beltway near the American Legion Bridge. WTOP News photo by Dave Dildine.

An academic study released Tuesday finds that ozone and fine particulate matter from vehicle emissions in 2016 led to an estimated 7,100 premature deaths in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast — including 664 in Maryland.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, also attempts to quantify how much pollution from tailpipe emissions is traveling across state lines and harming the health of people living in cities and states downwind.

Using 2016 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute for the Environment and the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health quantified the total of interstate deaths from transportation-related air pollution generated by five vehicle types in 12 states and Washington, D.C.

To measure emissions and estimate the public health consequences, researchers used a series of statistical models to compare the air quality of different states, factoring in vehicle class and their associated emissions.

The study is being used to urge state governments to cooperate regionally on working to reduce vehicle emissions and to invest more in clean air policies. Some Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states are collaborating on the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a system to cap emissions and force energy producers and wholesalers to purchase credits for excess pollution their products create.

Maryland officials were among the early organizers of the effort, which is being administered by the Georgetown Climate Center, but declined to formally join the TCI last winter.

“What makes this study different from previous studies is that it connects the dots between where the pollution happens, and where the premature deaths occur,” said Saravanan Arunachalam, research professor and deputy director of the UNC Institute for the Environment.

In Maryland, automotive emissions contributed to more than $6.8 billion in health damages in 2016, the study concluded. Of the states closest to Maryland, Virginia saw almost $5 billion in health damages, D.C. was at $1 billion, Delaware was at $1.1 billion, and Pennsylvania was at $13 billion. Maryland’s other neighbor, West Virginia, was not included in the research.

When it came to total premature deaths from tailpipe emissions, Virginia showed 485, D.C. had 98, Delaware 110, and Pennsylvania 1,270, compared to Maryland’s 664.

Half of the premature deaths in Maryland were caused by out-of-state vehicles, the study concluded. That compared to 31% in Virginia, 85% in D.C., 84% in Delaware, and 41% in Pennsylvania. In D.C., Virginia emissions are the largest contributor; in Delaware, Pennsylvania emissions are the largest contributor.

Maryland saw 330 premature deaths from in-state vehicle emissions, the research showed. In Virginia, the number was 334, in D.C. it was 15, in Delaware it was 18, and in Pennsylvania it was 748.

Maryland vehicle emissions were responsible for 512 premature deaths in other states, compared to 534 from Virginia, 53 from D.C., 132 from Delaware, and 935 from Pennsylvania.

The study authors also calculated how each type of vehicle impacted public health.

Regionwide, light-duty trucks, which include SUVs, were responsible for the largest number of premature deaths at 2,463, followed by light-duty passenger vehicles (1,881) and heavy-duty trucks (1,465).

“It is my hope that the results from this study will help demonstrate how serious air pollution from vehicles is to people living not only near high-traffic areas but also those living downwind of them,” said Calvin Arter, a graduate research assistant at UNC-Chapel Hill and lead author of the study. “And in doing so, provide the impetus for a collaborative approach to reducing the health impacts associated with on-road transportation-related air pollution.”

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Study: Hundreds in Md. Die Prematurely From Vehicle Emissions