Research supports health benefits of ACT for Chicago Metro communities

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By Neda Deylami. This blog was co-authored by José Acosta-Córdova, Senior Transportation Policy Analyst at LVEJO

Transportation accounts for almost one-third of Illinois’ greenhouse gas emissions — the sector responsible for the most GHG emissions in the state. Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, such as delivery vans, transit buses and large tractor-trailers are a disproportionate contributor of these emissions, but also other emissions like nitrogen oxide and particulate matter that directly harm the health of Illinoisans. Despite making up less than 10% of on-road vehicles, these trucks and buses are responsible for 67% of NOx and 59% of PM.

Advocates in the state have long been calling for Gov. Pritzker to move forward on key policies to advance zero-emission trucks and buses.  Chief among them is the Advanced Clean Trucks rule, which requires manufacturers to sell an increasing percentage of zero-emission trucks and buses.

Research supports health benefits of ACT for Chicago Metro communities Share on X

An analysis from EDF and Northwestern, informed by key input from community partners, demonstrates the significant positive impact that the ACT rule can have in the greater Chicagoland area. If the rule is implemented starting in 2027, then approximately 50% of medium and heavy-duty vehicles on Illinois roads will be zero-emission by 2050. Assuming technology and conditions are the same as today, that change could avoid around 500 deaths and about 600 new cases of childhood asthma each year across the seven counties included in the Chicago Metropolitan Area for Planning region. In comparison, if all on-road MHDVs in the CMAP region were transitioned to zero-emission vehicles, there would be around 1,300 fewer deaths and 1,500 fewer new cases of childhood asthma each year due to reduced NO2 pollution. In other words, the status quo health impact of diesel pollution is associated with unacceptable amounts of illness and mortality.

Pollution from MHDVs is more prevalent in communities living near commercial truck-attracting facilities, freight corridors and inland ports. Residents of communities near high volumes of truck traffic and resulting pollution are more likely to be of low-wealth and people of color than would be expected based on statewide demographics. This trend of disproportionate harm has been borne out by multiple analyses, including a new report from EDF that traces the growth of mega-warehouses in Illinois communities, driven in part by the e-commerce boom.

The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization in partnership with The Center for Neighborhood Technology has taken the step of counting the trucks spewing harmful pollution in the surrounding community. The counts done by LVEJO show that truck traffic happens disproportionately in communities of color; similarly, EDF’s data shows that Black and Hispanic/Latino populations live near warehouses at rates more than 37% and 95% higher, respectively, than would be expected based on statewide statistics.

Illinois needs to take decisive action as soon as possible. The EDF and Northwestern report anticipates the following outcomes of implementing the ACT in 2027:

  • A reduction in NO2 concentrations of up to 18% in the most impacted census tracts, and an average reduction of 8%.
  • Health benefits in all census tracts in the Chicagoland region, with the largest benefits in neighborhoods with higher percentages of residents of color.

It’s important to recognize that, with respect to the Latinx community, health impact analyses like these can reflect a seeming paradox. Despite disproportionate pollution burdens and cumulative impacts from other socioeconomic factors, Latinx Americans on average tend to have lower mortality rates. But respiratory and other pollution-related ailments are often significantly undercounted and modeling approaches do not fully reflect cumulative impacts from pollution and other socioeconomic factors.

The evidence continues to pile up: for the health of Chicago’s most affected residents, the state must adopt the ACT rule as part of a suite of strong, stakeholder-led policies. The time to act is now.

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