Reducing air pollution: policies that pay off

image: Fine particle (smog) pollution event in Grenoble, 2016.
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Credit: Remy Slama

Reducing fine particle mortality by two-thirds in an urban area could be done at a cost well below the value of the societal and economic benefits obtained, according to a study by a multidisciplinary team CNRS, INSERM, INRAE, Université Grenoble Alpes (UGA) and Atmo Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. The study identifies specific public policies likely to achieve the health objectives set by local decision-makers, as well as their expected co-benefits. The findings are published in International environment on January 15, 2022.

Every year in France, fine particle pollution (particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers1) leads to the premature death of approximately 40,000 people. The associated cost is estimated at 100 billion euros per year. Despite this, public policies to combat air pollution are generally implemented without first assessing their future health and economic impacts.

The MobilAir project attempts to respond to this problem by identifying specific policies that would meet the health objectives set by decision-makers in the Grenoble conurbation, namely a 67% reduction in mortality linked to fine particles from 2016 to 2030. A cost – the analysis of the benefits of the different options was carried out by a collaboration involving the Laboratory of Applied Economics of Grenoble (CNRS/INRAE/UGA), the Institute of Advanced Biosciences (INSERM/CNRS/UGA), the Center for economics and sociology applied to agriculture and rural areas (AgroSup Dijon / INRAE) and Atmo Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

The team targeted the two local sectors that emit the most fine particles: wood heating and transport. They show that the health objectives can be achieved by combining two measures: the replacement of all inefficient wood heating systems with modern pellet stoves, and the reduction of 36% in the circulation of personal vehicles within the agglomeration. Concretely, these policies should be accompanied by financial assistance to households, the development of infrastructure (public transport and/or cycle paths, etc.) and well-targeted public awareness programmes.

The successful implementation of such policies would result in a range of additional health benefits beyond the health gains directly related to fine particulate matter, since it would promote physical activity and reduce urban noise pollution and emissions. of greenhouse gases. The most generalized development scenarios for active modes of transport (walking and cycling) would lead to a net benefit of 8.7 billion euros over the period 2016-2045, i.e. an annual benefit of 629 euros per inhabitant in the agglomeration2.

This is the first study in France showing that the societal benefits associated with measures to improve air quality would be greater than the cost of such measures. It thus provides decision-makers with scientifically validated approaches to significantly improve health throughout the conurbation.

This work was funded by the Initiative d’Excellence (Idex) of the University of Grenoble Alpes and by ADEME.


1 More than 30 times thinner than a hair.

2 This benefit was calculated as the difference between the health benefits of the measures (whether tangible, such as lower medical costs and sick leave, or intangible, such as improved quality of life and mortality), and the investments and costs, both private and for the community, associated with these measures. In other words, depending on the scenarios, each euro invested by the community would generate between 1.1 and 4.7 euros in societal benefit.

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