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“We need to think of air pollution as a health emergency.”

An estimated 4.2 million premature deaths are associated with outdoor air pollution each year. And traffic emissions are one of the leading contributors, with those living within a quarter mile or so of a busy road at greatest risk. Often, we have no idea what we are being exposed to in our air on a daily basis. But statistics and facts will only get you so far. To change perceptions and policy, the issue must be brought to a human level to force change. One case can have a ripple effect and be a catalyst for change around the world.

Photo credit: The Ella Roberta Foundation

Practical Progress

The use of science to inform decisions that drive policy change often follows a circuitous path. But sometimes there are clear threads between the problem and the solution. The 1970 Clean Air Act mandated a reduction of automobile emissions. This then drove automakers to find a solution. Using policy levers, regulation, and enforcement to drive change is common – whether that be carrots or sticks, incentives or fines. But with any regulatory efforts, officials also have to weigh the costs to our health, economy, and jobs. 

Cumulative effects

Pragmatic decisions and big-picture framing have improved our air quality over the years. Yet there is still work to be done, especially with communities most at risk. For example, the issue is not just that traffic congestion or an industrial site exists - it’s also about who lives next to the busy roads and pollution and who can afford to move. The EPA released a research report in 2022 examining the cumulative impacts and research needed to make decisions and take action about the longstanding disparities associated with air pollution. In the conclusion of their report, they called it a paradigm shift in how they think about human health and the environment. So how do we create a holistic path forward?  

Dr. Stephen Holgate, Clinical Scientist
Jana Milford, Professor Emerita in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Environmental Engineering Program
Ean Tafoya, Colorado State Director, Green Latinos

Further Reading

“The tragedy of air pollution - and an urgent demand for clean air.” Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. TED Talks. October 2021.

"Air pollution greatest global threat to human health, says benchmark study.", August 29, 2023.

“Traffic-related air pollution: Emissions, human exposures, and health: An introduction.” ScienceDirect. August 28, 2020.

“EPA Researchers Release Cumulative Impacts Report, Prioritizing Environmental Justice in New Research Cycle.” EPA. October 11, 2022.



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