Reducing freight transport could reduce mortality rates

U.S. cities could see a decline in mortality rates and an improved economy if the government maintains strict air pollution policies on freight transport, according to research at Cornell University, New York. 

The study, which was published in the Environment International Journal examined the air quality and public health impacts of projected freight-related emissions in 2050 over the continental United States.

While researchers say, ‘freight transportation is a pillar of the U.S. national economy,’ long-haul trucks account for about 40% of the emissions of air polluting particulate matter and about 55% of nitrogen oxides on US highways, the study said.

Diesel emissions from freight transportation activities are a key threat to public health, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Senior author Oliver Goa, professor of civil and environmental engineering said: ‘People use their family cars some 10 to 12 years, and log about 120,000 miles over the car’s lifetime, a diesel truck can stay on a fleet about 25 to 30 years and easily log a million miles.’

The study modelled the public impacts of restraining particulate matter, based on emission change for future air quality. They estimated improved health outcomes (preventing 3,600 premature deaths nationally each year) and $38 bn in economic benefits for reducing those deaths.

The benefits to society of reduced freight emissions are expected to exceed the implementation costs of such policies. For example, the total compliance in particulate constraint costs from 2011 to 2050 would cost $1.8 bn annually, which is about 5% of the calculated yearly health savings, $38 bn.

While current regulations have emission limits on new vehicles, the regulations do not affect vehicles already in use, Dr Gao said.

Ageing trucks can easily degrade from normal to high-emitting conditions. Eliminating super-emitting vehicles completely would further reduce long-haul freight emissions by nearly 70% and provide 20% more health benefits, the researchers have said.

In order to achieve the emission reduction goals and the benefits to public health, strict emission standards and fuel policies should be continuously and effectively implemented, the study said.

Writing for Air Quality News, Dr. Sarah Wixey, Associate Director at WYG, said that as demand for delivery and servicing activity continues to grow, increased freight activity can create wide-reaching negative impacts by contributing to increased congestion, noise pollution and higher levels of harmful emissions.