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Switching to electric vehicles would be fantastic for kids’ health


A wholesale switch to electric vehicles would be a tremendous boon to the health of many people around the world. But a new report from the American Lung Association highlights the particular advantages for children, especially those vulnerable to respiratory illness.

Based on a model in which all new vehicles sold by 2035 are zero-tailpipe emission, the group concludes that there would be 2.7 million fewer asthma attacks among children, as well as 147,000 fewer acute case of bronchitis. The transition to EV-only sales would also prevent 2.67 million cases of upper respiratory symptoms and 1.87 million cases of lower respiratory symptoms in children. And there would be 508 fewer cases of infant mortality.

Highlighting the specific impact switching to EVs would have on kids was important because children’s bodies develop at a different rate than adults’, said Laura Kate Bender, national assistant vice president for Healthy Air at the American Lung Association

“Kids are at greater risk of air pollution, their lungs are still growing.”

“Kids are at greater risk of air pollution, their lungs are still growing,” she said in an interview. “I can say that as a person growing up with asthma, [it] put me in the ER more often than I think my parents would have liked.”

Combustion engine vehicles are huge drivers of climate change, accounting for over a quarter of all global emissions. That’s why governments around the world are attempting to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, which emit far fewer pollutants in the atmosphere. Children stand to gain a lot from this switch, especially kids at particular risk for respiratory illness.

That’s assuming all new passenger cars sold in the US are EVs by 2035 and all new heavy-duty vehicles sold are electric by 2040. What’s more, those vehicles would need to be powered by an electrical grid that is also free of fossil fuels.

“We see the two as inseparable,” Bender said of EVs and a zero-emission grid. “That’s really how you get to the greatest possible health benefits.”

The switch to EV-only sales will be difficult, especially as demand for plug-in cars wavers in the face of high prices and concerns about charging availability and reliability. Still, sales have been increasing steadily year over year, with EVs comprising a little more than 8 percent of all vehicle sales in 2023.

Combustion engine vehicles are huge drivers of climate change

But “fleet turnover” can be slow, especially with conventional gas-powered cars and trucks becoming more capable, breaking down less, and staying on the road longer. The average light-duty vehicle on the road today is 12 years old, up from 9.6 years old in 2002.

If the United States wants to move to a fully electric fleet by 2050 — to meet President Biden’s goal of net zero emissions — then sales of gasoline-powered vehicles would likely have to end altogether by around 2035. That’s an extraordinarily heavy lift.

It could get even more difficult if the EPA follows through on its plan to slow the transition to EV-only sales. Bowing to the pressure from automakers and labor unions, the Biden administration recently pulled back on strict new Environmental Protection Agency rules that would have forced US automakers to phase out gas-powered cars by 2032.  

Still, the American Lung Association wants to highlight the health benefits of such a transition — not just for us, but for our kids, too. Bender said she hopes the report will serve as a wake-up call for policymakers, especially as they consider strengthening new emission rules for cars and trucks.

“That would mean that even as automakers continue to make gas-powered vehicles, that they would actually be cleaner,” she said. “So there are real gains to be made even with the rules on the table.”



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