2.5 Micron Particulate Matter is DeadlyAccording to a new study published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology by MIT researchers, particulate matter of 2.5 micron (aka PM 2.5) emitted by the combustion of fuel is responsible for around 13,000 premature deaths in the UK per year, while an additional ~6,000 deaths in the UK are caused by non-UK European Union (EU) combustion emissions. The authors of the study found that the leading domestic contributor is the transportation sector, which causes around 7,500 early deaths per year, while power generation and industrial emissions result in ~2,500 and ~830 early deaths per year, respectively. They also estimated the total monetized life loss in the UK at £6–62 billion per year (US$9.6 to 99.5 billion)—0.4–3.5% of gross domestic product (GDP).
Steve Yim and Steven Barrett, the authors of the study, wrote:
Approximately one-sixth of PM2.5 exposure attributable to transport (as a whole) is BC [black carbon]. This can be compared to 1−2% for other sectors and is indicative of the extent to which road transport has localized impacts due to the positive correlation between road transport emissions and population density. On the other hand, sulfate impacts of road transport represent 1% of the sector’s total PM2.5 impact, which can be compared to figures of 10% for industry to 62% for power generation. This is consistent with the low sulfur fuel used in road transport in the UK and the high sulfur coal-fired power stations in use. Taken together, these findings suggest further efforts to reduce UK power station SOx emissions should be assessed for their costs and benefits, while for road transport the planned reductions in allowable primary PM emissions may have significant health benefits.
This highlights the importance of addressing emissions from the transportation sector as quickly as possible. The easiest solutions are to have cities where it is much easier and safer to walk, bike, and take transit. The electrification of the transportation sector can also help a lot with air quality issues, especially if the power grid is being cleaned up in parallel (something that we have to do for all kinds of reasons, including global warming).