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What Is Ozone Pollution Costing Nevada?

Climate change is having effects everywhere and it’s only going to get more pronounced.

It’s going to influence everything from transportation and urban planning to the economy. And it’s already impacting public health, too. But what are the costs of all this change?

A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council looked at the costs of ten different environmental events – from wildfires in Washington to algae blooms in Florida – and tabulated their cost.

In Nevada, researchers looked at what ground-level ozone pollution cost the state in 2012, both in terms of lives lost and financially.

Ozone, which is commonly known as smog, is an odorless gas that is produced when chemicals released by burning fossil fuels combine in the atmosphere. Its production is amplified when air temperatures increase. 

"That is why we're worried about ozone air pollution and climate change because we know that increasing global temperatures will basically accelerate the formation of ozone in certain parts of the globe," said Vijay Limaye, a climate change and health science fellow with the NRDC.

Limaye helped lead the study. He said the gas triggers a variety of health problems because it is a lung irritant. 

"It triggers health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and airway inflammation," he said, "Ozone can also reduce lung function and harm lung tissue over both the short and the long term."

Limaye said there is a lot of research connecting cause and effect of ozone and serious short-term and long-term lung health problems. In addition, new research by the EPA shows there strong links between ozone and metabolic conditions, like diabetes.

With the knowledge that burning fossil fuels creates ozone and ozone causes problems health problems, the NRDC wanted to track the costs of those connections and how climate change is increasing those costs.

"We know that climate change threatens human health in a number of ways but there really remains a lack of evidence and public understanding about the economic toll about these adverse public health impacts," Limaye said.

The research found that in 2012 ozone pollution accounted for $887 million in premature death costs, $11 million in the costs of illnesses and $898 million in total health care costs.

Limaye said there is an increasing demand for specific local information about climate change, its impact on economic stability and human health. 

Limaye said there is a lot of information about what cutting carbon pollution and transitioning to clean energy will cost but, "oftentimes, lost in those discussions is a full sense of the enormous costs people are already paying due to climate-sensitive events, especially in sometimes irreversible damage to public health."      

He pointed out that tracking those costs can be difficult and often the price of something is determined by how much it cost to be repaired or how much it was insured for, to begin with. 

To create the report, the NRDC stitched together three dozen data sources, including peer-reviewed papers and data from state and local health departments.

While the numbers are alarming, Limaye is hopeful because we understand what is driving those numbers and how to stop it.

"We know that the same fuel choices right now that are driving ozone pollution levels in Nevada and across the country are the same energy choices that are fueling the global climate change problem," he said, "These are linked problems with linked solutions. The same solutions that will help us fight global climate change over the long term will also help us reap major benefits, including health benefits right here, right now."

Vijay Limaye, Climate Change and Health Science Fellow, Natural Resources Defense Council 

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