Premature deaths from air pollution total 50% of premature deaths from smoking

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, there are about 400,000 deaths each year in the United States from direct exposure to cigarette smoke. According to a recent article from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, there are about 200,000 premature deaths each year in the United States caused by air pollution, specifically from small particulates (PM2.5) and from ground level ozone. The MIT researchers state that their results are indicative of the extent to which policy measures could be undertaken in order to mitigate the impact of specific emissions from different sectors.

The research found that the largest contributors to premature death from air pollution from the burning of fuel are road transportation and electric power generation. Sector by sector, the number of premature deaths in the US are projected to be approximately:

  • road transportation, 53,000 from particulate emissions and 5,000 from ozone;
  • power generation, 52,000 from particulate emissions and 2,000 from ozone;
  • industrial emissions, 41,000 from particulate emissions and 2,000 from ozone;
  • commercial and residential heating, 42,000 from particulate emissions and a few hundred from ozone;
  • maritime transportation, 8000 from particulate emissions and 500 from ozone;
  • rail transportation, 4000 from particulate emissions and 500 from ozone;
  • aviation, 1000 from particulate emissions and 100 from ozone.

Although the research is based on 2005 emissions data, because this was the latest available at the time the project began, the authors are confident that it is broadly reflective of the situation today.

The paper, which provides data by region, is available, fee required, at

The research is published in the journal Atmospheric Environment. Volume 79, November 2013, pages 198–208 under the title Air pollution and early deaths in the United States. Part I: Quantifying the impact of major sectors in 2005.
Fabio Caiazzo, Akshay Ashok, Ian A. Waitz, Steve H.L. Yim, Steven R.H. Barrett, Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, United States.

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