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US states export air pollution’s health effects, study finds

by Cheryl Hogue
February 14, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 7

Leland Olds power plant in Stanton, North Dakota.
Credit: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock
Power plants, including this one in North Dakota, were significant sources of pollution blown by wind into other states.

On average, at least 40% of premature deaths due to air pollution in any of the 48 contiguous US states result from emissions originating from other states, a new study finds (Nature 2020, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-1983-8). Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Delft University of Technology, and the University of California, Davis, tracked how wind-blown air pollution from each contiguous US state affected health in the other 47 states during 2005, 2011, and 2018. They focused on early deaths due to exposure to ground-level ozone and particulate matter. Led by Steven Barrett, an aeronautics and astronautics professor at MIT, the team found three notable trends. One is that states in the northern Midwest, notably Wyoming and North Dakota, were the largest net exporters of pollution-related premature deaths. Second is that states in the Northeast had the greatest number of deaths from airborne pollution from other states, with New York experiencing the most. The third trend is that West Coast states break even because they have virtually no pollution that blows in from other US states and areas downwind are sparsely populated.


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