Reducing Mortality from Air Pollution in the United States by Targeting Specific Emission Sources

Sumil K. Thakrar, Srinidhi Balasubramanian, Peter J. Adams, Inês M.L. Azevedo, Nicholas Z. Muller, Spyros N. Pandis, Stephen Polasky, C. Arden Pope, Allen L. Robinson, Joshua S. Apte, Christopher W. Tessum, Julian D. Marshall, Jason D. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Air quality in the United States has dramatically improved, yet exposure to air pollution is still associated with 100000-200000 deaths annually. Reducing the number of deaths effectively, efficiently, and equitably relies on attributing them to specific emission sources, but so far, this has been done for only highly aggregated groups of sources, or a select few sources of interest. Here, we estimate mortality in the United States attributable to all domestic, human-caused emissions of primary PM2.5 and secondary PM2.5 precursors. We present detailed source-specific attributions in four alternate groupings relevant for identifying promising ways to reduce mortality. We find that nearly half of the deaths can be attributed to just five activities, all in different sectors. Around half of the deaths can be attributed to fossil fuel combustion, with the remainder attributable to combustion of nonfossil fuels, agricultural processes, and other noncombustion processes. Both primary and secondary PM2.5 are important, including PM2.5 from currently unregulated precursor pollutants such as ammonia. We suggest improvements in air quality can be realized by continued reductions of emissions from traditionally important sources and by novel strategies for reducing emissions from sources of emerging relative importance and research focus. Such changes can contribute to improved health outcomes and other environmental goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)639-645
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology Letters
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 8 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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