A new model predicts how ground transportation will affect human health and the environment in the future

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Trucks and trains transporting goods across the United States emit gases and particles that threaten human health and the environment. A project led by the University of Illinois has developed a new model that predicts through 2050 the impact of different environmental policies on human mortality rates and short- and long-term climate change caused by carbon emissions. particles and greenhouse gases.

The results are reported in the journal Natural durability.

Greenhouse gases and some particulate emissions are causing the atmosphere to warm, but at different rates, said Tami Bond, a civil and environmental engineering professor who led the study with graduate student Liang Liu. “Particulate matter is rapidly removed from the atmosphere, making its effect on the climate short-lived – unlike greenhouse gases which remain in the atmosphere for decades. Particulate matter has the added disadvantage of causing inhalation-related illnesses,” she said.

Civil and environmental engineering professor Yanfeng Ouyang and urban and regional planning professor Bumsoo Lee collaborated to make the modeled projections possible, along with researchers from the University of Washington, Pennsylvania State University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and from the Argonne National Laboratory.

The researchers used what they call a “system of systems” approach to model how increasing shipping volume, mode of transportation, population density and environmental policies will factor in future health and environmental impacts. land freight weather conditions. The model is also set up to identify the scenarios that are most harmful to the climate and those that are most detrimental to human health.

“Many studies use unique system models,” Bond said. “For example, the trucks on the roads, or how people use different goods as the economy grows, or how cities expand as their population grows. These systems all influence each other , so we had to connect them and see how they worked together.”

A carbon tax, which values ​​greenhouse gas emissions, could encourage shippers to switch to more efficient rail transport. Models indicate this could lead to a 24% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to business as usual, the largest reduction of any modeled scenario, the study reports.

The researchers found that applying truck fleet maintenance was an effective way to reduce particulate emissions, reducing the predicted fatality rate by about a third by 2050. The number of unsuitable trucks and poorly maintained on the road is uncertain, but this attention to overall performance is an important factor in maintaining health, Bond said. The researchers also looked at the effect of changing population density in cities.

According to the study, increasing urban compactness could reduce freight activity but increase human exposure to particulate pollution. This scenario offers a slight improvement in health benefits compared to the current trend of urban sprawl. However, the answer is not as simple as simply enforcing new environmental policies, Bond said.

“Yes, changes in environmental policy could push us towards cleaner and more efficient ground transportation or greater urban compactness, but we need to think ahead and start building the infrastructure now that supports these changes,” she said. “For example, when oil prices spiked about 10 years ago, shippers wanted to switch from truck to rail, but there was really not enough capacity.”

Bond said there are still many scenarios to explore with the new model, including the effects of declining or improving infrastructure and increased traffic congestion. “Our model allows for great flexibility, and this kind of ‘system of systems’ approach should be routine when investigating policy change,” she said.

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