Fine-scale damage estimates of particulate matter air pollution reveal opportunities for location-specific mitigation of emissions

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Apr 30;116(18):8775-8780. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1816102116. Epub 2019 Apr 8.


Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution has been recognized as a major source of mortality in the United States for at least 25 years, yet much remains unknown about which sources are the most harmful, let alone how best to target policies to mitigate them. Such efforts can be improved by employing high-resolution geographically explicit methods for quantifying human health impacts of emissions of PM2.5 and its precursors. Here, we provide a detailed examination of the health and economic impacts of PM2.5 pollution in the United States by linking emission sources with resulting pollution concentrations. We estimate that anthropogenic PM2.5 was responsible for 107,000 premature deaths in 2011, at a cost to society of $886 billion. Of these deaths, 57% were associated with pollution caused by energy consumption [e.g., transportation (28%) and electricity generation (14%)]; another 15% with pollution caused by agricultural activities. A small fraction of emissions, concentrated in or near densely populated areas, plays an outsized role in damaging human health with the most damaging 10% of total emissions accounting for 40% of total damages. We find that 33% of damages occur within 8 km of emission sources, but 25% occur more than 256 km away, emphasizing the importance of tracking both local and long-range impacts. Our paper highlights the importance of a fine-scale approach as marginal damages can vary by over an order of magnitude within a single county. Information presented here can assist mitigation efforts by identifying those sources with the greatest health effects.

Keywords: air pollution; environmental economics; marginal damages; particulate matter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't