The EV shift could prevent millions of childhood asthma attacks

Exhaust from all those cars and trucks leads to higher rates of childhood asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and pulmonary ailments. Many people die younger than they otherwise would have, and the medical costs and time lost to illness contributes to their poverty.

Imagine if none of those cars and trucks emitted any fumes at all, running instead on an electric charge. That would make a staggering difference in the trajectory, quality, and length of millions of lives, particularly those of young people growing up near freeways and other sources of air pollution, according to a study from the American Lung Association.

The study, released Wednesday, found that a widespread transition to EVs could avoid nearly 3 million asthma attacks and hundreds of infant deaths, in addition to millions of lower and upper respiratory ailments.

Children, being particularly vulnerable to air pollution, would benefit most, said study author William Barret, the association’s national director on advocacy and clean air. “Children are smaller, they’re breathing more air pound for pound than an adult,” Barret said. “The risk can be immediate, but it’s also long lasting.”

Some 27 million children in the US alone live in communities affected by high levels of air pollution, the study found. Their vulnerability begins in the womb, where vehicle exhaust, factory smoke, and other pollutants can jump-start inflammation in a fetus and its mother, causing health problems for both and leading to preterm birth and congenital issues that can continue for a lifetime.

Prior research by the American Lung Association found that 120 million people in the U.S. breathe unhealthy air daily, and 72 million live near a major trucking route—though, Barret added, there’s no safe threshold for air pollution. It affects everyone.

Bipartisan efforts to strengthen clean air standards have already made a difference across the US. In California, which, under the Clean Air Act, can set state rules stronger than national standards, 100 percent of new cars sold there must be zero emission by 2035. Truck manufacturers are, according to the state’s Air Resources Board, already exceeding anticipated zero-emissions truck sales, putting them two years ahead of schedule. All that’s needed is for the EPA to grant California the waivers required to implement these standards.