Is EV Adoption Really That Beneficial for the Environment and Our Health?

EVs Station

(Credit: Canva Pro)

by | Feb 6, 2023

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EVs Station

(Credit: Canva Pro)

The study conducted by the Keck School of Medicine of USC found a correlation between the adoption of electric vehicles and reduced air pollution, leading to improved respiratory health. This study adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the positive impacts of electric vehicles on both air quality and public health.

Researchers used publicly available datasets to analyze a “natural experiment” occurring in California as residents rapidly transitioned from driving conventional vehicles to electric cars, or light-duty zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs). As of 2021, California reported 980,225 battery and plug-in EVs in use in the state. The results of the study were recently published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

“When we think about the actions related to climate change, often it’s on a global level,” said Erika Garcia, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine and the study’s lead author. “But the idea that changes being made at the local level can improve the health of your own community could be a powerful message to the public and to policymakers.”

“The impacts of climate change on health can be challenging to talk about because they can feel very scary,” said Sandrah Eckel, PhD, an associate professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine and the study’s senior author, adding, “We’re excited about shifting the conversation towards climate change mitigation and adaptation, and these results suggest that transitioning to ZEVs is a key piece of that.”

The team analyzed data on total ZEV registration, air pollution levels, and asthma-related emergency room visits across the state between 2013 to 2019. They found that as ZEV adoption increased within a given zip code over these years, local air pollution levels decreased and so did the number of asthma-related ER visits. The findings showed that a rise in the number of EVs per 1000 population was linked to improved air quality, as measured by decreased nitrogen dioxide levels, and reduced asthma-related emergency department visits. However, the rate of EV adoption was slower in communities with lower educational attainment, indicating a gap in the distribution of potential health benefits. These results provide the first real-world evidence of the impact of EVs on air quality and public health.

Inequitable Access to EVs

The researchers also found that total ZEVs increased over time, but adoption was slowest in low-resource zip codes—what the researchers refer to as the “adoption gap.” This disparity points to the need for policies and programs that address environmental injustices in communities whose residents are disproportionately affected by pollution and related health problems. Previous studies have indicated that low-income communities frequently face a disproportionate amount of air pollution compared to affluent neighborhoods. If ZEVs are deployed in more disadvantaged areas as well, residents will likely benefit from reduced respiratory ailments.

“Should continuing research support our findings, we want to make sure that those communities that are overburdened with the traffic-related air pollution are truly benefiting from this climate mitigation effort,” Garcia said.

Adopting electric vehicles has been shown to have a positive impact on both air quality and public health. The lack of tailpipe emissions from electric vehicles reduces the number of harmful pollutants released into the air, leading to improved air quality. This, in turn, leads to better public health outcomes, as exposure to air pollution has been linked to various health problems such as respiratory diseases, heart disease, and stroke.


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