Feb 21, 2024 - Health

Electric cars could boost kids' health, study finds

Illustration of a child surrounded by medical crosses receding into the distance

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Millions of childhood asthma attacks would be avoided and hundreds of infant lives saved by 2050 if the U.S. transitioned entirely to electric vehicles (EVs) powered by renewable energy, according to new research from the American Lung Association (ALA).

Why it matters: Children are especially vulnerable to air pollution and the effects of climate change because their bodies are still developing and they typically spend more time outdoors than adults, according to the ALA.

  • Health effects from climate change and pollution are also strongly associated with premature birth, low birth weight and stillbirth.

Driving the news: The ALA, which previously examined the public health benefits of electrification in its 2022 report "Zeroing in on Healthy Air," decided to take a closer look at how children in particular would be affected.

  • The report assumes that all new passenger vehicles sold are zero-emission by 2035, and all trucks by 2040.
  • It also assumes that the nation's electric grid will be powered by clean,
    renewable energy by 2035.

How it works: Researchers fed those assumptions into a series of EPA and Department of Energy modeling tools to come up with projected health outcomes, in order "to help illustrate the health benefits possible through this transition," says Will Barrett, report author and ALA senior director for clean air advocacy.

What they found: For children, a transition to clean, zero-emission vehicles on the assumed timeline would result in up to:

  • 2.79 million asthma attacks avoided.
  • 147,000 acute bronchitis cases avoided.
  • 2.67 million upper respiratory symptoms avoided.
  • 1.87 million lower respiratory symptoms avoided.
  • 508 infant mortality cases avoided.

What they're saying: "Air pollution harms children's health and wellbeing today, and the transportation sector is a leading source of air pollution," says ALA president and CEO Harold Wimmer.

  • "Vehicle emissions are also the nation's biggest source of carbon pollution that drives climate change and associated public health harms."

Reality check: The projections used here are rosy at best, especially with the EPA reportedly about to relax emissions rules intended to accelerate the EV transition.

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