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Baby with toy car

This fall brought some new things to my family, and not simply new teachers for my three kids. Rather, my family and I welcomed a Danish exchange student into our family for the school year.

Walking our hometown streets with his incredulous eyes made us realize how he sees it — there are a whole lot of cars in our city. While some folks drive electric vehicles, the majority of those cars run on combustion engines that spew toxic air pollutants and greenhouse gases. 

Transportation pollution is a leading source of both harmful air and climate pollution in the United States, meaning that the road to clean air must include zero-emission vehicles. 

What would the impact be if all of our hometown streets were filled with zero-emission vehicles?

According to the “Zeroing in on Healthy Air” report, transitioning to 100% sales of zero-emission vehicles and 100% non-combustion electricity generation over the next 30 years could generate over $1.2 trillion in health benefits in the United States. Other benefits include:

  • Approximately 110,000 lives saved
  • Over 2.7 million childhood asthma attacks avoided
  • 13.4 million lost workdays avoided

Air pollution is known to contribute to harmful health impacts — like premature birth, atypical brain development, asthma, and many others — which is why regulators such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set limits on emissions. But mounting evidence suggests that even pollution levels long thought to be safe can increase the risk of health problems, including in the brain.

Even levels of certain air pollutants considered safe by the EPA are linked to changes in brain function. Children exposed to more pollutants showed changes in connectivity between various brain regions. In some areas, they had more connections than normal; in other areas, they had fewer.

Brain development deserves a place alongside other baby milestones, like sitting up and speaking.

During the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second. By age two, almost all of the billions of brain cells that you will ever have are in place. 

Except in the hippocampus and one or two other tiny regions, the brain does not grow new brain cells throughout your life. When brain cells die, they are gone. So its initial months of formation, when the brain is most vulnerable, are critical. 

Toxic stress weakens the architecture of the developing brain, which can lead to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health. 

Transitioning to zero-emission vehicles has an impact on public health. Data are still not available to quantify the impact on neurodevelopment, but we do have quantifiable benefits for other health outcomes.  Researchers found, for example, that just 20 zero-emissions vehicles per 1,000 people in a given zip code were associated with a 3.2% drop in the rate of emergency room visits due to asthma.

It’s easy to see why the transition to zero-emission vehicles is required, but it’s not always as easy to procure the funding for implementation. 

So, here’s where you can look to procure funding on the road to 100% zero-emission vehicles in your city. 

Reach out to:

Questions? Contact Kyra Naumoff Shields, PhD, Bright Cities Program Director at knaumoff@hbbf.org or 510.847.7948.

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