Quantifying health benefits of zero-emission vehicles

Our analysis of the air quality and climate impacts of electrification served as the backbone for a series of American Lung Association studies on electric vehicles.
Results at a glance
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Our experts in transportation, energy, and electrification continue to work with the American Lung Association to conduct comprehensive studies on the nationwide transition to electric vehicles running on a clean electric grid. Building on the work we did in a previous report, titled “The Road to Clean Air,” ICF has contributed to a series of new reports that illustrate the benefits of transitioning to zero-emission technology to protect public health and advance efforts to address climate change in the United States.


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Of all the sources of harmful air pollution in the United States, the transportation sector is one of the top offenders. From school buses to passenger vehicles to freight trucks, combustion-powered transportation can lead to numerous (and costly) public health risks—including asthma attacks, lung cancer, and cardiovascular damage.

The nationwide transition away from gasoline, diesel, and natural gas and to zero-emission transportation is already underway, from states showing leadership in establishing zero-emission vehicle standards to the federal government making historic investments in technology and infrastructure.

How can state, local, and federal leaders continue to capitalize on this momentum and reach aggressive zero-emissions targets by 2050? What would the benefits of moving toward zero-emission transportation solutions be—to the economic value of people’s health and to the environment? The Lung Association set out to provide a comprehensive, methodologically sound study to explore possible answers to these questions on a national scale, thereby laying the groundwork for nationwide investments and policies. In doing so, the Lung Association needed our experience with electric power grids and vehicle fleets.


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We started by building out an electrification plan for the entire nation’s vehicle fleet, including both passenger vehicles and heavy-duty vehicles (e.g., freight trucks, buses, heavy-duty trucks, airport shuttles). We broke these vehicles down into categories based on their use and suitability for electrification, then built a scenario for deploying electric vehicles across the nation.

With an electrification scenario in place, we modeled emissions changes over time from both the nation’s vehicles and the “upstream” activities associated with powering the vehicles (as the substitution of internal combustion-powered vehicles with electric-powered vehicles evolves). We examined the effects of the vehicle electrification scenario on emissions over time. We then used COBRA—an analytical tool from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—to predict the exposure to those emissions at the county -level. We calculated changes in air quality, followed by changes in public health outcomes for people breathing this cleaner air.


The American Lung Association has produced multiple reports underpinned by ICF's analysis that helped to shed new light on the impact of zero-emission transportation on public health. These reports offer an assessment of the benefits of zero-emission transportation and electricity solutions by 2050, as well as the equitable distribution of these benefits.

Data from the most recent report, ”Driving to Clean Air,” highlights the disparities of local air pollution burdens in lower-income communities. To ensure all communities benefit from the shift to electric vehicles, the Lung Association outlines steps that can be taken by policymakers such as building out stronger incentive programs to promote the purchase of new and used zero-emission vehicles, financing car-sharing services, or developing other innovative zero-emission mobility choices.

ICF’s analysis underlying this work, from the “Zeroing in on Healthy Air” study, found that a zero-emission transportation and electricity scenario by 2050 would result in avoiding hundreds of thousands of tons of air pollution, more than a billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, preventing hundreds of thousands of premature deaths, and avoiding over a trillion dollars in healthcare costs associated with air pollution nationally per year. These U.S.-based reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could also lead to preventing hundreds of billions of dollars in climate change-related damages worldwide.


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“Our work with ICF demonstrates the health benefits of a swift nationwide shift to zero-emission vehicles and clean electricity to safeguard public health in the US. The ongoing transition, driven by states implementing emission standards, updated federal rules and historic federal investments in technology and infrastructure, promises significant reductions in harm through reduced emissions from vehicles and the electric grid.”

Will Barrett
National Senior Director, Clean Air Advocacy, American Lung Association
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