Health and Healthcare Systems

Air pollution costs each American $2,500 a year in healthcare - study finds

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The national pricetag was put at more than $820 billion a year. Image: Unsplash/ Obi Onyeador

Matthew Lavietes
Journalist, Thomson Reuters Foundation
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  • Air pollution from fossil fuels contributes to 107,000 premature deaths per year in the United States, a report finds.
  • In medical bills, pollution costs each American an average of $2,500 a year.
  • This figure comes from a national pricetag of $820 billion a year.

Air pollution from fossil fuels costs each American an average of $2,500 a year in extra medical bills, researchers said on Thursday, as climate change hurts both health and finances.

The national pricetag was put at more than $820 billion a year, with air pollution contributing to an estimated 107,000 premature deaths annually, said the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental advocacy group,

"The science is clear: the dangerous effects of climate change - and their profound costs to our health and our pocketbooks - will worsen each year we fail to curb the pollution," said the NRDC's Vijay Limaye.

The report used data from several dozen scientific papers to tally the overall cost of a changing climate on U.S. health.

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Heat waves, which can trigger strokes and exacerbate cardiovascular problems, cost the country $263 million a year, the report found, with wildfire smoke costing Americans $16 billion annually.

A wildfire in Los Angeles this week has fueled fears that California's wildfire season is becoming longer. Five of the six largest wildfires in the state's history occurred last year.

Lyme disease and West Nile virus, more common with rising temperatures, contribute to roughly $2 billion in health costs annually, the report found.

On Tuesday, scientists estimated that Hurricane Sandy, which pummeled New York City and much of the East Coast in 2012, caused $63 billion in property damage, making it one of the most costly storms in U.S. history.

At a virtual conference, Limaye said he hoped to convince lawmakers that climate change was more expensive than inaction.

"We've written this report to help policymakers, health professionals...to recognize the profound suffering and expensive health costs that can be avoided by cutting climate pollution," Limaye said.

"A strong response to climate change is urgent and action is needed now."

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