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Vehicle air pollution and public health do not mix well: World Bank Study

May 26, 2014 |

World Bank Group Study

The World Bank released a ground-breaking study, entitled “Transport for Health: the Global Burden of Disease from Motorized Road Transport”, earlier this year, which revealed that modern motorized vehicle use has impacted heavily on public health around the globe. The study – the first of its kind – concluded that road injuries and air pollution, attributed to motorized transportation, resulted in over 1.5 million deaths and 79.6 million healthy years lost every year.

Placing that into perspective, deaths related to road transportation exceed those of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, while injuries and pollution from vehicles are directly linked to six of the top ten causes of death across the globe.

Dr. Michael Brauer contributed his expertise to the study, specifically in the area of air pollution.

As a world-renowned expert in air pollution and related health issues, Brauer provided insights the global disease burden caused by vehicle air pollution.

What are the most significant health impacts/’social cost of growth’ of motor vehicle pollution

Air pollution from vehicle pollution is a contributing risk factor to the top 5 diseases in the world: ischemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (chronic bronchitis and emphysema), lung cancer, and acute lower respiratory infections (e.g. pneumonia) in children.

Dr. Michael Brauer

Dr. Michael Brauer

With the current demand for urban growth and industrialization in developing countries pitted against global political pressure to ease greenhouse gas emissions from sources like motor vehicles, what are the most significant challenges to improving emission standards in developing countries?

This is not an either/or situation – in developed countries we have demonstrated that there can be consistent economic growth while environmental conditions improve. This has been achieved by implementing regulation that drives technology to reduce emissions – California has consistently led the world in demanding more stringent regulation. For rapidly developing economies, the challenge is to not only implement the most stringent emissions requirements for motor vehicles – which is generally occurring – but to also to reduce the total numbers of vehicles by prioritizing alternative forms of transportation such as public transit and active transportation (bicycles and walking), which can bring about other benefits such as increased physical activity, and by designing urban areas to be less reliant on automobiles.

What steps are being taken to mitigate health impacts in Canada?

In terms of mitigating health impacts of air pollution from motor vehicles more generally – we have vehicle emissions standards and fuel requirements that have made a huge difference. Also, as we know that a small percentage of vehicles actually produce the vast majority of pollution vehicle emissions testing programs like AirCare are very important. Unfortunately, while programs like AirCare are continuing and expanding in most parts of the world, the BC government has decided to end AirCare this year.

What is the most significant finding of the study that is crucial to the general public?

Motor vehicles – which are hugely important and beneficial to society – also can lead to very large negative impacts on health through injuries and air pollution. Fortunately, we also know how to reduce these negative impacts through well-tested improvements in vehicle and road safety, in clean fuel and emissions control technologies and in promoting alternative modes of transportation that keep the overall number of vehicle-kilometers travelled in check.