Juvenile asthma and excess deaths blamed on pollutants from transportation

Common pollutants from transportation were responsible for nearly 2 million cases of asthma in children and nearly 2 million excess deaths in 2019, two studies published this month by researchers at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health found.

According to a co-author of both articles, Susan Anenberg, the findings argue for shifting toward alternative fuels.

“Reducing fossil fuel-powered transportation can help children and adults breathe easier and may pay big health dividends, such as fewer cases of pediatric asthma and excess deaths,” Anenberg said.“At the same time, it would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, leading to a healthier climate.”

Onestudy, published in the Lancet on Jan. 1,looked at nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations—a pollutant originating from transportation and other forms of combustion—applied in “an epidemiologically derived concentration-response function with population and baseline asthma rates.” The study found that 1.85 million new paediatric asthma cases were attributable to NO2 globally in 2019.

The second study, published Jan. 5 on Lancet’s website,looked at another type of air pollution,fine particulate matter (PM2.5),and employed epidemiologically derived concentration-response functions and baseline disease rates to determine “attributable cause-specific mortality”. That study found that PM2.5 above the levels recommended by the WHOwas responsible for more than 1.85 million premature deathsin cities worldwide in 2019.

Both studies used data from just over 13,000 cities around the world, between 2000-2019.

As the first study noted, NO2 sources include road transportation and aviation. Particulate matter also comes from transportation, and one study cites aviation as a specific cause of particulate matter.

Given that aviation is known to be one of the least green sources of transportation, the sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) produced by biotech companies could be a big part of the solution for improving air quality. According to EURACTIV, sustainable aviation fuel has been shown to reduce several air pollutants, including particulate matter and greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

With the long lead time for new propulsion technologies like hydrogen and electricity to come to market, a World Economic Forum report maintains that SAF allows immediate progress on net zero emissions, for both long and short haul aviation.

Last year, several US airlines also indicated that they will support a voluntary industry target of 3 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel in 2030, as the US looks to reduce aviation sector emissions, Reuters reported. The first commercial passenger flight to use 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) took place in December.

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