Emissions from traffic congestion may shorten lives

Air pollution from traffic congestion in 83 of the nation’s largest urban areas contributes to more than 2,200 premature deaths annually, costing the health system at least $18 billion, according to a study by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers featured May 25, 2011, in USA Today.

Scientists have long thought that emissions from vehicles idling on crowded roadways are harmful to health, but this study, “Evaluation of the Public Health Impacts of Traffic Congestion: A Health Risk Assessment,” published in Environmental Health, is believed to be the first to quantify the damage.

The study was led by Jonathan Levy, adjunct associate professor of environmental health, and co-author Katherine von Stackelberg, a research associate, of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. Jonathan Buonocore, an Sc.D. student in the Department of Environmental Health’s Environmental Science and Risk Management program, also participated in the study.

The researchers used models to estimate the amount of traffic congestion and fuel emission pollution in each of the urban areas from 2000 to 2030, adjusting for anticipated emissions improvements over the next few years. The authors noted that premature deaths and the public health care costs associated with congestion have been declining slightly for a decade, but are expected to rise starting in 2030.

“What the study says is when you are designing and evaluating (transportation) policies, you should take into account the pollution impacts, because they do matter,” von Stackelberg told USA Today.

Read the USA Today article

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Harvard Center for Risk Analysis

Department of Environmental Health