Air pollution from electric generation is responsible for more than 29,000 premature deaths annually in PJM states, more than any other air pollution source, according to a new study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The study found that fine particulates (PM2.5) and ozone pollution from electric generation caused 52,000 deaths in the continental U.S. annually, second only to the 53,000 deaths attributed to tailpipe emissions from autos. Within PJM states, auto pollution was second, responsible for more than 23,000 premature deaths.
All told, including other emission sources, such as industrial smokestacks, commercial and residential heating and cooking and marine and rail transportation, air pollution is responsible for 200,000 deaths annually, the study found.
Coal-burning Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio had the highest electric generation mortality rates in PJM, with Kentucky’s 40.2 deaths per 100,000 population nearly double the rate for New Jersey (22.2). New Jersey has a higher overall death rate, however due to higher impacts from autos, shipping and commercial and residential emissions.
Among cities, the Baltimore metropolitan area ranked worst, with an annual mortality rate of 130 per 100,000 due to high emissions from power generation, autos and industry.
Persons who die from an air pollution-related cause typically have about a decade cut from their lifespan, according to Steven Barrett, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics who was one of the authors of the study.
The researchers found that the impact of auto emissions was highest in densely populated areas while power plants emissions, which are deposited at a higher altitude, were more dispersed.
The highest electric generation-related death rates were in the east-central U.S. and Midwest, which researchers suggested was due to the burning of coal with higher sulfur content than burned in the west.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 74 million people in the U.S. are exposed to levels of PM
2.5 higher than permitted by the Clean Air Act and that more than 131 million live in regions not compliant with ozone limits. The EPA computed the costs for the implementation of the 1990 Clean Air Act to be about $65 billion from 1990 to 2020, potentially avoiding 230,000 premature deaths in 2020.
The MIT researchers based their study on data from EPA’s National Emissions Inventory. The results were published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.