Climate Initiatives Reducing Vehicle Emissions Can Boost Children's Health

The findings of a study conducted by researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, in collaboration with partners from the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Boston University's School of Public Health, have been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Climate Initiatives Reducing Vehicle Emissions Can Boost Children's Health
Climate Initiatives Reducing Vehicle Emissions Can Boost Children's HealthREPRESENTATIVE

A recent research suggests that by restricting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from automobiles and allocating resources towards electric vehicles and public transportation, we can effectively decrease air pollution and enhance the well-being of children. Additionally, such measures would result in financial savings.

The findings of a study conducted by researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, in collaboration with partners from the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Boston University's School of Public Health, have been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The scientists simulated the advantages of adopting various versions of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), a climate policy framework, in 12 states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, along with the District of Columbia. By imposing the strictest limit on CO2 emissions and allocating the highest amount of funding to public transportation, they projected that more than 58,000 instances of infant mortality, preterm birth, low birth weight, autism spectrum disorder, new cases of asthma, aggravated asthma symptoms, and other respiratory diseases could be prevented.

The annual economic savings amounted to $82 million. Analysis of the distribution of reduced cases of aggravated asthma symptoms showed that children from all racial and ethnic backgrounds experienced benefits, with slightly greater improvements seen in non-white communities.

The TCI proposal involved fuel suppliers buying carbon emissions allowances, with the funds being used for clean transportation initiatives. Although the program was not put into action, it can serve as a valuable blueprint for other climate change policies. Researchers examined the potential impact on air pollution from on-road transportation emissions between 2022 and 2032, considering different CO2 emissions cap and investment scenarios suggested under TCI.

They used BenMAPR, a health impact assessment platform based on the EPA's Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program, to calculate the possible health advantages for negative birth, pediatric respiratory, and neurodevelopmental outcomes.

"Health benefits assessments often overlook children's health outcomes. Yet we know that early exposure to air pollutants has multiple detrimental effects on children's health and well-being, and these are preventable," said co-author Frederica Perera, PhD, DrPH, professor of environmental health sciences and director of translational research at the Columbia Center.

Researchers at Columbia Mailman emphasize the significance of taking action to reduce carbon emissions in order to address the escalating climate crisis. They highlight the potential benefits of implementing ambitious carbon caps and policies that specifically target vulnerable groups, such as children. According to Alique G. Berberian, MPH '19, a PhD student and graduate student researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, these efforts can not only improve health outcomes but also help to lessen the impacts of climate change.

The researchers also emphasize the significance of incorporating health and environmental equity into climate policies.

"Climate policies can have major effects not just on climate, but also on health and environmental justice. Our research shows the importance of including these other benefits of policies when evaluating climate policies," said senior author Jonathan Buonocore, ScD, assistant professor of Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health.

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