Issue Brief – Clean, Renewable Energy and Lung Health

Download the RHA Issue Brief – Clean Renewable Energy and Health (December 2017)

 

Executive Summary

Our energy choices affect our quality of life.  Reliable, affordable access to energy raises a community’s quality of life, but so can the source of that energy. Production, distribution, and consumption of energy can all impact health. This is especially true with use of fossil fuels.  Emissions from burning fossil fuels can harm health directly and contribute to global warming, resulting in other indirect health risks.

Clean, renewable electricity has become increasingly commonplace and cost-effective and continues to grow and expand. With the clean, renewable technologies available today, we have the potential to decrease U.S. carbon emissions from electricity generation by more than 80 percent, and perhaps as much as 100 percent by 2050. We also have an opportunity to drastically reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with burning fossil fuels.

Increased use of clean, renewable energy, such as wind and solar-generated power, when combined with increased energy efficiency, can improve health both by reducing emissions that harm health directly and that increase global warming.  In other words, clean, renewable energy is not just an environmental issue, but a public health issue.

With this brief, RHA examines:

  • The different types of clean, renewable energy and their respective environmental impacts;
  • The health impacts of fossil fuel emissions;
  • The climate change impacts of fossil fuel emissions;
  • The economic impact based on health improvements from displacing fossil fuel energy generation with clean, renewable energy; and
  • The current state of clean, renewable energy generation in Illinois.

 

Date of Publication: December 2017

If you have questions or would like additional information about RHA’s clean air initiatives, please contact Brian Urbaszewski via email burbaszewski@lungchicago.org or by phone (312) 628-0245.

Green Vehicles

Download the Green Vehicles – What You Need to Know PDF.

 

Cars that are more efficient and less polluting than conventional fossil-fueled vehicles are often termed ‘green vehicles’. A hybrid electric vehicle (HEV), a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), and an all-electric vehicle (EV) are all examples of green vehicles that lead to cleaner air.1

What is the difference between a HEV, a PHEV, and an EV?

A HEV combines a gas- or diesel-powered engine, a small rechargeable battery and an electric motor. PHEVs have a larger battery, an electric drive motor and a gas- or diesel-powered engine. PHEVs can either run on electricity alone at speed up to >50 miles before switching to fuel, or can use fuel and electricity at the same time as the engine charges the battery.2 EVs operate using only a large battery and an electric motor.

What are the health benefits associated with driving green vehicles?

Air pollution can cause both immediate and long-term health problems. Short-term symptoms related to air pollution exposure include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and chest pain. Exposure may trigger asthma episodes as well. Long-term exposure to air pollution puts people at risk for lung disease, stroke, heart attacks, and premature death.3 Green vehicles reduce or eliminate the dangers of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and greenhouse gas pollution that cause immediate and long-term health problems.4 While green vehicles improve air quality and reduce global warming emissions, EVs offer the greatest health benefits because they emit no tailpipe emissions.

How far can a green vehicle travel?

HEVs and PHEVs have the same power and range as conventional vehicles. Newer EVs have a range of >100 miles, sufficient for 90% of all household vehicle trips in the U.S.5 Battery technology is advancing quickly and some EVs already boast a range of 200-300+ miles. EVs and PHEVs can be charged at home in a parking space or garage. Publicly available charging stations can also be found at https://www.plugshare.com.

How much does an electric vehicle (EV) cost?

While EVs now have a higher upfront cost, the total cost of owning an EV is reduced by both lower fuel costs and maintenance costs. The cost of electricity is cheaper than gas and diesel in most states.6 Having fewer moving parts than gas or diesel engines leads to lower electric vehicle maintenance costs. At present, a federal tax credit can also significantly reduce the price of a new electric car. EV prices will continue to fall further due to the declining cost of batteries. Experts predict the cost of owning electric cars will be cost competitive with gas- or diesel-powered vehicles by 2020.7

The cost of an EV can be offset using federal and state tax credits and incentives. Find tax credits and incentives at https://www.afdc.energy.gov/laws/.

Search for available Green Vehicles at https://www.afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_availability.html.

 


 

1 “Learn About Green Vehicles.” EPA. February 23, 2017. Accessed July 19, 2017. https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/learn-about-green-vehicles.
2 “How Do Plug-in Hybrid Electric Cars Work?” Union of Concerned Scientists. Accessed July 26, 2017. http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/electric-vehicles/how-do-plug-in-hybrid-electric-cars-work#.WXjEfRXyvcs.
3 “Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health.” World Health Organization. September 2016. Accessed July 24, 2017. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs313/en/.
4 Sovacool, Benjamin K. “A Transition to Plug-in Electric Hybrid Vehicles (PHEVs): why public health professionals must care .” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2010: 185-187.
5 “All-Electric Vehicles.” Alternative Fuels Data Center: All-Electric Vehicles. April 3, 2017. Accessed July 19, 2017. https://www.afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_basics_ev.html.
6 Yamauchi, Mia. “Driving on Electricity Is Cheaper Than Gas in All 50 States.” Plugless Power. Accessed July 19, 2017. https://www.pluglesspower.com/learn/driving-electricity-cheaper-gas-50-states/.
7 Hanley, Steve. “Electric Vehicle Battery Prices Are Falling Faster Than Expected.” CleanTechnica. February 13, 2017. Accessed July 19, 2017. https://cleantechnica.com/2017/02/13/electric-vehicle-battery-prices-falling-faster-expected/.

Secondhand Smoke

Download the Secondhand Smoke – What You Need to Know PDF.

 

What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke, also called environmental tobacco smoke, is the mixture of gases and fine particles from burning tobacco products. It can contain 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which are known to cause cancer. Breathing in secondhand smoke can lead to disease and premature death in those who do not smoke.

What is the impact of secondhand smoke?

There is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure. Secondhand smoke exposure is responsible for 49,000 deaths a year, including the death of 46,000 non-smokers.

Exposure to secondhand smoke at home or work increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease by 25-30 percent and lung disease by 20-30 percent. Secondhand smoke exposure can also trigger respiratory symptoms and cause asthma exacerbations.

Children who are continuously exposed to smoke may develop asthma or experience asthma symptoms, and are also at increased risk for ear infections, lower respiratory infections and overall decreased lung function. Infants who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Secondhand smoke can be connected to more than 400 SIDS deaths each year.

How common is exposure to secondhand smoke?

Most exposure to secondhand smoke occurs in the home and workplace. In the U.S., more than 126 million people who don’t smoke are exposed to secondhand smoke in vehicles and other public places.

Nearly 35 percent of children live with a smoker. This rate is often higher for low-income and black children. Making your home smoke-free can significantly reduce exposure to secondhand smoke and is one of the most important steps you can take for the health of your children and family.

What is being done about secondhand smoke exposure?

Thirty-nine states and more than 1,000 cities and counties in the U.S. have already passed smoke-free air laws, and the numbers continue to grow.

On January 1, 2008, Illinois became the 22nd smoke-free state. The Smoke-free Illinois Act prohibits smoking in public places, places of employment, governmental vehicles and within 15 feet of any entrance to a public place or place of employment. The law creates a floor for smoke-free laws, allowing local communities to enact or retain stronger laws, but not allow weaker laws.

Issue Brief – Climate Change and Respiratory Health

Download the Issue Brief – Climate Change and Respiratory Health PDF.

 

As global warming accelerates, climate disruptions pose a serious and increasing threat to people with lung disease.

Executive Summary

The climate change issues that are expected to affect respiratory health include increases in:

  • Extreme weather events, including heat waves, extreme precipitation, and droughts
  • Wildfires and wildfire smoke
  • Particulate matter (soot)
  • Aeroallergens, including pollens, mold and fungus
  • Insect and water borne diseases
  • And higher levels of ground-level ozone (smog).

Caretakers and advocates for individuals with lung disease should familiarize themselves with these issues.

The public health response to climate change cannot merely be one of adaptation; the medical and public health communities need to be an active voice in broader climate policy discussions.

This paper serves as a brief primer on how climate change will affect lung health, with a focus on Illinois, and the policies aimed at mitigating further climate disruption.

Date of Publication: May 2016

 

For more information about climate change and respiratory health, contact Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Policy, via email at burbaszewski@lungchicago.org or by phone at (312) 628-0245.

Climate Change & Respiratory Health

Download the Climate Change & Respiratory Health – What You Need to Know PDF.

 

Science shows that an increase in average global temperature by more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels risks human health. Accelerating climate change poses a particular threat to people living with chronic disease, including respiratory issues like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), allergies, emphysema, and lung cancer.

While nations work to reduce greenhouse gasses by 80 percent by 2050 in order to curb many of these health consequences, some effects are inevitable and persons living with respiratory disease and their caretakers will need to adapt to a changing climate.

Climate change factors affecting respiratory illness include more extreme weather events, more wildfires, higher levels of allergens, increased insect and water-borne diseases, and higher levels of air pollution.

Extreme Weather Events

Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of floods, droughts, heat waves, and blizzards. Extreme heat is projected to cause increased deaths and could lead to more frequent droughts. Climate change will not necessarily lead to warmer winters, but winters with more extreme blizzards. Increased precipitation will lead to more floods. Flooding can increase mold and fungi growth, which can exacerbate asthma and allergies. In addition to these direct harms, extreme weather events can physically limit people’s access to care, medical supplies, and necessary services.

Wildfire Smoke

Longer, hotter summers are leading to more wildfires. Wildfire smoke is worse for respiratory health than typical air particular matter; it can affect breathing conditions for hundreds of miles and increase respiratory hospital admissions.

Allergies

Rising greenhouse gas concentrations are leading to plants producing more pollen each season and some plants and molds becoming more allergenic. Rising temperatures are also leading to longer pollen seasons. In addition, increased temperatures and humidity could increase building dampness and air conditioner usage, which can affect respiratory issues such as wheezing, asthma, and infections.

Diseases

A warming climate will likely expand the range for diseases spread by insects and water. While the effect on respiratory health is uncertain, increased precipitation could lead to the spread of respiratory diseases such as hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome and legionnaires disease.

Air Pollution

Climate change is likely to increase ground-level ozone (smog) and particulate matter air pollution. These climate-driven changes could affect people with respiratory disease. Ground-level ozone can diminish lung function, increase hospital visits for asthma, and increase premature deaths. Wildfires and desertification are contributing to more airborne particulate matter. However, promoting clean power and cutting carbon pollution from dirty power plants could reduce many of the harmful air pollutants that contribute to smog. Such measures could result in almost immediate public health benefits and could ultimately prevent thousands of premature deaths and hospitalizations due to heart and lung disease.

School Bus Idling

Download the School Bus Idling – What You Need to Know PDF.

 

Content.

 

Diesel Retrofits

Download the Diesel Retrofits – What You Need to Know PDF.

 

When diesel engines burn fuel, they leave behind a dangerous stew of emissions. Because diesel vehicles and equipment often operate on the street level, this pollution is emitted exactly where people breathe. Diesel exhaust is one of the most dangerous pollutants, and can be the cause of asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and early deaths. To help save the lives and health of many people, technology and regulations can make diesel engines less pollutant. Clean diesel advocates have a goal of reducing direct diesel fine particulate matter emissions by 70 percent by 2020.

What is the technology?

While there are several varieties of diesel pollution controls, the two most common are:

  • Diesel Particulate Filters (DPFs)
    DPFs are installed in the engine exhaust system and physically trap particles in the engine exhaust before they leave the tailpipe. Particles trapped in the filter are oxidized to carbon dioxide and water.
  • Diesel Oxidation Catalysts (DOCs)
    DOCs are stainless steel canisters installed in the exhaust system. They use a chemical process to break down pollutants in the exhaust stream into less harmful components. As exhaust gases pass through a DOC’s honeycomb structure, pollutants and particulate matter are chemically oxidized to harmless gases.

Testing indicates that these filters are so effective that they can eliminate nearly all harmful soot emissions. DPFs are most effective, and when used with Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel fuel, can reduce at least 90 percent of soot emissions.

What are the impacts and benefits?

All new diesel engines in trucks and buses, model year 2007 or newer, are federally mandated to be 90 percent cleaner. New offroad equipment, such as construction equipment, also began meeting similar federal requirements during a 2008-15 phase-in period. For every dollar spent on reducing particulate matter pollution from diesel engines, $12 will be avoided in health damages. 100% battery powered electric trucks and buses are also commercially available.

What about engines built before 2007?

Diesel engines have a very long lifespan. As a result, there are still approximately 11 million old, dirty diesels in use in the United States. Fortunately the same pollution control technology can be retrofitted onto existing older engines in use today. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that retrofitting 10,000 engines would eliminate roughly 15,000 tons of harmful pollution each year.

How can I take action?

You can help Respiratory Health Association advocate for diesel retrofits and other clean air policies. Become an RHA  e-advocate today. {Add advocacy boilerplate language}