We as a society pay for the effects of air pollution on our health to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars per year. These costs occur across a wide spectrum and are sometimes hard to identify or even classify. Here on this page are some studies and articles to help navigate this important consideration.
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As prior sections showed, air pollution harms our health in many ways. That is sad and unfortunate. But there is another cost to us: money. Who pays for the ER visit due to an asthma attack on a bad air day? Who pays for lost productivity at work when someone is sick from air pollution? Who pays for the hospital stay when someone has a heart attack from a bad air day? The answer is us. We as a society pay for the illnesses that air pollution causes-whether by paying in to our insurance company or paying taxes to support Medicare.
When the health costs are factored in, it is almost always cheaper for society to transition to a newer, non-polluting source of energy than to continue using polluting fossil fuels for our cars, homes, mowers, etc (47, 48, 49). As another example, a June 2020 study in Toronto estimated 313 less deaths a year and 2.4 billion dollars saved if all cars and SUVs were moved to electric in that city (64).
In another example, the EPA estimates savings from implementing the Clean Power Plan (a plan to substitute coal power plants with renewables) of $14-$34 billion each year just in health care savings from less air pollution(55) With electricity production from renewables now cheaper than from coal, this creates a double savings to society (41).
A recent study shows a correlation of childhood asthma cases to air pollution. In Denver this study hinted that up to 45% of childhood asthma cases could be related to air pollution. This places an undue burden on low-income families because many of them live closer to high traffic areas, and the annual per-person incremental medical cost of asthma in this study was $3,266 .
As our climate warms, air pollution becomes worse. Ozone is worse with warmer temperatures (50), forest fires and the smoke they produce is worse (51). In fact, the increase in health care use for these issues is expected to rise, especially from smoke in the Western states like Colorado (52). A warmer climate means more hospitalizations for heat related illness (58) and more treatment for warm weather infections, some of which are coming into areas never seen before as the temperature rises (53, 59). Thus a warming climate is not only expensive due to stronger hurricanes, more intense heat, more destructive forest fires. A warming climate will make our air dirtier, worsen heat related illnesses and this will tax our health care system even more.