Reductions in national carbon emissions could prevent more than 3,000 premature deaths per year by cleaning up the air across the nation, finds a new study published yesterday in Nature Climate Change.

Furthermore, according to Driscoll and his fellow researchers, the largest potential health benefits would occur in states in the Ohio River Valley, which currently have some of the highest air pollution levels from coal-fired power plants in the nation.

These health benefits would be the indirect result of moving away from coal-fired power plants for power generation. Coal plants not only produce carbon dioxide (CO2), but also air pollutants including PM and precursors to tropospheric (ground-level) ozone. Both PM and ozone have been linked with many health problems included asthma and lung disease. Each year, an estimated 800,000 early deaths occur around the globe as the result of these two combustion-related air pollutants.

For this study, including only the emissions produced at power plants (this is not a life-cycle analysis nor does it include other portions of the energy system), these Syracuse and Harvard researchers observed only co-benefits with regards to premature deaths. That is, reducing CO2 emissions indirectly resulted in decreased early mortality across the board. Furthermore, of the scenarios presented, it appears that the one most closely resembling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (as proposed last June) has the largest co-benefit, saving just over 3,500 lives per year.

To explore the full study, visit this link.

Photo Credit: Photo of the General James M. Gavin plant on the Ohio River by Analogue Kid and used via Creative Commons.