Electric vehicles could reduce pollution and improve health outcomes, study finds

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Researchers say there are also considerable financial benefits associated with this change

While recent studies have highlighted how electric cars could give a boost to both the environment and consumers’ finances, researchers are continuing to explore the benefits associated with having more electric cars on the road. 

A new study conducted by researchers from Northwestern University found that greater use of electric vehicles could lead to reduced air pollution and improved health outcomes for consumers. The team predicts that having more of these vehicles on the road could save billions of dollars in efforts that are designed to help combat air pollution. 

“Vehicle electrification in the United States could prevent hundreds to thousands of premature deaths annually while reducing carbon emissions by hundreds of millions of tons,” said researcher Daniel Peters. “This highlights the potential of co-beneficial solutions to climate change that not only curb greenhouse gas emissions but also reduce the health burden of harmful air pollution.” 

Improving conditions for consumers’ health

To better understand how having more electric vehicles on the road could be beneficial, the researchers assessed three primary factors: public health information, a model to simulate air pollution across the country, and 2014 vehicle emissions data. 

The first and second points allowed the researchers to understand the health factors related to electric vehicles while the emissions data from 2014 assessed how different types of vehicles -- either electric or traditional -- contributed to air pollution. Ultimately, the researchers learned that major changes could be made by increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road. 

Based on the data from 2014, increasing electric car usage by just 25 percent can make a big difference. The researchers predicted that a larger percentage of electric vehicles could have prevented 250 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. From a monetary standpoint, that would translate to over $15 billion in related air pollution costs.

Moving forward, the researchers hope that policymakers can use these findings to their advantage as they continue to look for ways to improve the environment. 

“The social cost of carbon and the value of statistical life are much-studied and much-debated metrics,” said Horton. “But they are regularly used to make policy decisions. It helps put a tangible value on the consequences of emitting largely intangible gases into the public sphere that is our shared atmosphere.” 

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