The Lung Association recently released "Boosting Health for Children: Benefits of Zero-Emission Transportation and Electricity." In it, we highlighted ways that climate change is impacting kids, and we crunched the numbers to find out how children’s health would benefit if the nation switches to zero-emission vehicles and gets all its power from clean sources. Here are the key takeaways from our latest report: 

1. Kids face greater risks than adults from air pollution, including traffic pollution. This is due to several factors, including the fact that kids’ bodies are still growing, and kids have increased exposure to air pollution compared to adults since children have a higher breathing rate and breathe more air per unit of body mass than adults. They also spend more time outside.

2. These risks start before kids are even born. Exposure to both ozone and particle pollution (both pollutants found in traffic pollution) during pregnancy is strongly associated with premature birth, low birth weight and stillbirth.

3. Breathing polluted air can harm kids’ health in both immediate and long-term ways. A child’s exposure to air pollution can not only cause immediate respiratory harm like coughing, wheezing and the worsening of respiratory diseases like asthma, but it can also reduce lung growth and function and increase asthma incidence – that is, it can actually cause asthma. Air pollution exposure in children is also associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, IQ loss, pediatric cancers, and increased risks for adult chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease.

4. The health burden of air pollution on children isn’t equally shared. Lots of kids are at especially high risk: children who live in communities near pollution sources like highways and other freight hubs, children who have existing health conditions like asthma, many children of color and children from low-income communities. Communities living near pollution sources, including highways, railyards or ports, are more likely to be lower-income communities and communities of color due to decades of inequitable land use decisions and systemic racism.

5. Transportation is a leading source of greenhouse gases that cause climate change and amplify health risks further. Climate change is harming health in many ways – including causing more intense and frequent wildfires and floods, record-shattering heat and the spread of water-borne and vector-borne diseases like Lyme Disease. Kids are especially vulnerable to climate-related health harms and last year experienced a record number of billion-dollar extreme weather events impacting the nation. 

6. Transitioning to zero-emission vehicles and electricity would result in huge health benefits for kids. Our new report is based on projected health impacts if all new passenger vehicles sold are zero-emission by 2035 and all new trucks sold are zero-emission by 2040. It also projects that the nation’s electric grid will be powered by clean, non-combustion renewable energy by 2035. According to the report, the transition to zero-emission transportation powered by clean non-combustion energy from 2020 to 2050 would prevent up to:

  • 2.79 million pediatric asthma attacks
  • 147,000 pediatric acute bronchitis cases 
  • 2.67 million pediatric upper respiratory symptoms
  • 1.87 million pediatric lower respiratory symptoms 
  • 508 infant mortality cases 

State and federal policymakers have the power to support children’s health by cutting harmful air pollution and climate pollution from the transportation and electricity sectors. The American Lung Association is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finalize strong pollution limits for new cars and trucks that will drive a nationwide transition to zero-emission vehicles. Learn more and take action

1. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021). “Ambient Air Pollution: Health Hazards to Children

2. Health Effects Institute Panel on the Health Effects of Traffic Related Air Pollution. “Traffic-Related Air Pollution: A Critical Review of the Literature on Emissions, Exposure, and Health Effects.” Boston, MA: Health Effects Institute; 2010. Available at: https://www.healtheffects.org/publication/traffic-related-air-pollution-critical-review-literature-emissions-exposure-and-health.

3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Ibid.

4. Landrigan, P. Rauh, V., Galvez, M. Environmental Justice and the Health of Children. Mt Sinai J Med. 2010 Mar-Apr; 77(2): 178–187. 

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