Zero emissions in Boston could save 288 lives annually

The City of Boston has set the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, mainly by cutting emissions. But if the city cut emissions now, over 200 deaths could be avoided and 2.4 billion US dollars saved, says new research.

Researchers estimate that over 200 lives could be saved in Boston if the city achieved zero emissions now. The resulting decrease in medical costs and lost or reduced work could save 2.4 billion US dollars for the entire 75-square-mile zone modeled in the study.

“Public health and climate policymaking are intertwined,” said study lead author Matthew Raifman from Boston University School of Public Health. “While Boston’s climate policies are focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, these actions will also likely reduce deaths and improve the quality of life of residents of Boston and the surrounding region.”

The researchers modeled two scenarios using the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Community Multiscale Air Quality model. In the first, they created a model of 2011 emissions and estimated the status quo for two air pollutants known to harm health: PM2.5 (particulates with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, or 3 per cent of the diameter of a human hair) and O3 (ozone), according to a statement.

In the second scenario, the researchers set the human-made emissions from within Boston’s city limits to zero. They defined human-made emissions broadly, including motor vehicles, generators, rail, industry, all oil- and gas-burning, shipping and boating along the coast, and residential wood fires.

The researchers then compared PM2.5 and ozone levels between the two scenarios to estimate the impact that eliminating emissions from Boston would have on air quality across the region.  They found that a zero-emissions Boston would halve PM2.5 concentrations in the city itself, and slightly decrease concentrations for the rest of the modeled zone.

Concentrations of ozone would also decrease across much of the modeled zone, although Boston and areas west of the city would actually see an increase in ozone during warmer months—which the researchers explain is because of the reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions that would normally transform ozone into other compounds.

The researchers then used the EPA’s Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program (BenMAP) Community Edition v1.5 to estimate how these changes in PM2.5 and ozone would affect health at the county level.

They estimated that these changes would result in 288 fewer deaths per year across the 75-square-mile area, mainly in Boston and the Greater Boston area. This would be 6 deaths avoided per 100,000 people in the region—which the researchers note is roughly equivalent to the state’s motor vehicle crash fatality rate.

The decrease in deaths, hospitalizations, days of missed work, and other benefits of a zero-emission Boston would translate to savings of $1.7 billion for Suffolk County, $182 million for Norfolk County, $159 million for Middlesex County, and tens of millions of dollars in savings for other surrounding counties in eastern Massachusetts and bordering states

Photo credit: Robert Laliberte/ Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY-NC 2.0

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