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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Social Cost of the Health Effects of Motor-Vehicle Air Pollution


Motor vehicles and their related emission sources, such as petroleum refineries, emit many different kinds of air pollutants, which affect human health in a variety of ways. These health effects create a large economic cost to society. In this report, we estimate the social cost of many of the health effects of motor-vehicle air pollution.

The relationship between changes in emissions related to motor-vehicle use and changes in health welfare (measured in dollars) can be modeled in three steps: 1) relate changes in emissions to changes in air quality; 2) relate changes in air quality to changes in physical health effects; and 3) relate changes in physical health effects to changes in economic welfare. We have made a detailed model of this sort to estimate the cost of the health effects of motor-vehicle air pollution1.

We estimate the human-health cost of motor-vehicle air pollution in the entire U.S., in urban areas of the U.S., in rural areas of the U.S., and in 11 major metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs): Boston, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, St. Lotus, Spokane, and Washington D.C. We consider six types of motor vehicles: light-duty gasoline and diesel vehicles, light-duty gasoline and diesel trucks, and heavy-duty gasoline and diesel trucks. We estimate the number and type of health effects, and the monetized value of these effects, including total dollar costs, dollar costs per vehicle-mile of travel, and dollar costs per kg of pollutant emitted. Finally, we include an analysis of the three main sources of the costs: direct emissions from motor vehicles, emissions of road-dust particulate matter, and "upstream" emissions from gasoline stations, refineries, vehicle manufacturing, and so on.

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