Electric Vehicles are Already Making California Healthier: Study

In California, where low- and zero-emission vehicle adoption rates are high relative to many of the U.S., residents may already be feeling the health advantages of cleaner air. One among the primary studies suggesting that ZEVs are related to real-world drops in respiratory issues and pollution has just surfaced, and it seems to supply a vital confirmation of what many have already predicted. 

Above: A highway in Central California (Image: Simon Hurry / Unsplash).

A brand new study published by the Keck School of Medicine at USC suggests that the increased prevalence of electrical vehicles in California is already driving “observed health and air quality co-benefits,” especially in vehicles with high EV density (via electrek). The brand new study checked out real-world data on pollution, electric vehicle density, emergency room visits from 2013-2019, and it controlled against general air quality improvements in the course of the study’s period.

What it found was that, perhaps unsurprisingly, clean air vehicles akin to hybrids and ZEVs made air cleaner and resulted in fewer respiratory problems, and advantages were observed to be increased in areas with higher densities of EVs.

Technically speaking, for each 20 ZEVs added to a community per 1,000 people, the study showed a 3.2-percent decrease in asthma-related emergency visit rates, in addition to a marginal decrease in NO2 levels. Across state zip codes, ZEVs averaged increases from 1.4 to 14.6 units per 1,000 people in the course of the years studied, showing overall adoption to have increased substantially.

“The impacts of climate change on health might be difficult to discuss because they will feel very scary,” said Sandrah Eckel, PhD, senior writer of the study and an associate professor of population and public health sciences on the Keck School of Medicine. “We’re enthusiastic about shifting the conversation towards climate change mitigation and adaptation, and these results suggest that transitioning to ZEVs is a key piece of that.”

The study also found EV adoption most prevalent in low-resource zip codes, and the team points out that these health advantages and reductions in pollution may apply most in wealthy communities.

The study notes that this gap, dubbed “the adoption gap” by the research team, threatens the equitable distribution of advantages to underserved communities. Coupled with a history of past research showing pollution and respiratory problems to be worse in lower-income neighborhoods, the study points out that lower-income communities stand to learn much more from EV adoption than the overall population.

Still, as ZEVs proceed to evolve into, hopefully, increasingly inexpensive products, the study seems optimistic in corroborating expectations that cleaner air will likely proceed to end in fewer respiratory problems on a community level.

“When we predict concerning the actions related to climate change, often it’s on a world level,” said Erika Garcia, PhD, MPH, the study’s lead writer and assistant professor of population and public health sciences at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. “But the concept changes being made on the local level can improve the health of your personal community might be a strong message to the general public and to policy makers.”

“Should continuing research support our findings, we would like to make sure that that those communities which are overburdened with the traffic-related air pollution are truly benefiting from this climate mitigation effort,” Garcia added.


Sources: ScienceDirect / University of Southern California / electrek; Note: You may read the complete press release on the study from USC’s Keck School of Medicine here.

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