Health Care Pollution And Public Health Damage In The United States: An Update

Health Aff (Millwood). 2020 Dec;39(12):2071-2079. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2020.01247.


An up-to-date assessment of environmental emissions in the US health care sector is essential to help policy makers hold the health care industry accountable to protect public health. We update national-level US health-sector emissions. We also estimate state-level emissions for the first time and examine associations with state-level energy systems and health care quality and access metrics. Economywide modeling showed that US health care greenhouse gas emissions rose 6 percent from 2010 to 2018, reaching 1,692 kg per capita in 2018-the highest rate among industrialized nations. In 2018 greenhouse gas and toxic air pollutant emissions resulted in the loss of 388,000 disability-adjusted life-years. There was considerable variation in state-level greenhouse gas emissions per capita, which were not highly correlated with health system quality. These results suggest that the health care sector's outsize environmental footprint can be reduced without compromising quality. To reduce harmful emissions, the health care sector should decrease unnecessary consumption of resources, decarbonize power generation, and invest in preventive care. This will likely require mandatory reporting, benchmarking, and regulated accountability of health care organizations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants* / analysis
  • Air Pollution* / prevention & control
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Greenhouse Gases*
  • Humans
  • Public Health
  • United States


  • Air Pollutants
  • Greenhouse Gases