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Your Environment. Your Health.

Air Pollution Deaths Linked to More Air Conditioning Use

Jonathan Patz, M.D.
University of Wisconsin, Madison

By 2050, up to 1,000 more deaths per year in the eastern United States may be linked to higher air pollution that stems from increased demand for air conditioning, according to an NIEHS-funded study. The results linked higher air pollution with increased levels of fossil fuels burned at power plants to meet a higher demand for air conditioning as the climate warms.

The researchers combined projections from five computer models to examine the contribution of future air-pollution–related health damage from power plant emissions, with a focus on emissions driven by demand for air conditioning. By incorporating methods to estimate electricity demand, power sector production and emissions, air quality, and adverse health outcomes from air pollution, they compared future climate predictions to the present day climate scenario.

According to their estimates, changes in climate as a whole in the eastern United States could increase premature mortality related to summer air pollution by about 13,000 deaths due to particulate matter, and 3,000 deaths due to ozone. Increased air conditioning, specifically, may account for up to 1,000 of those deaths.

According to the authors, although air conditioning will save lives as heat waves increase in frequency and intensity due to changes in climate, there will be a trade-off in the resulting harm to human health. They add that the findings highlight the need for more energy-efficient air conditioning and increased use of energy sources, such as wind and solar power, to reduce particulate matter emissions.

Citation: Abel DW, Holloway T, Harkey M, Meier P, Ahl D, Limaye VS, Patz JA. 2018. Air-quality-related health impacts from climate change and from adaptation of cooling demand for buildings in the eastern United States: An interdisciplinary modeling study. PLoS Med 15(7):e1002599.

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