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Member Research and Reports

UNC: New Research Identifies Low-Cost Options for Reducing Health Impacts of Air Pollution

New research from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health identifies cost-effective strategies for reducing the health impacts associated with air pollution in the United States.

The findings, published Feb. 19 in Nature Communications, suggest that low-cost actions to reduce emissions from industrial and residential sources could significantly reduce air pollution-related deaths — with national health benefits estimated at seven times the cost of the emission controls.

Regulatory Impact Analyses from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) typically evaluate air quality and public health benefits for a limited number of potential control strategies. To fully evaluate impacts, each control strategy requires a complex atmospheric model simulation.

“The limitation with this traditional approach is that there are many possible control actions and technologies affecting emissions, and it is impractical to sort through all the choices,” says Dr. Jason West, professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School. “Using a simpler model, we turned that approach around to essentially ask which emission reductions are most cost-effective for improving public health.”

The study — led by Dr. Yang Ou, who completed doctoral studies at the Gillings School in 2019 — was done in collaboration with researchers at the EPA. The researchers found that large health benefits could be achieved cost-effectively by reducing emissions in particular sectors, including the industrial use of coal and liquid fuels and residential wood burning. In these scenarios, emissions were reduced primarily by switching their energy sources to electricity.

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