EPE launches Technical Note Impacts on Human Health of Biofuels Use in the São Paulo Metropolitan Region

Environmental air pollution generates relevant health problems that affect especially the portion of the population that lives in large urban centers. The World Health Organization (WHO, 2019) estimates that air pollution in cities and rural areas annually causes 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide (2016 data). This mortality is mainly due to exposure to particulate materials, small particles with a diameter of less than or equal to 2.5 micron (mm) (PM2.5), which are related to the occurrence of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as to several types of cancer. 

WHO estimates that in 2016, 58% of premature deaths related to environmental air pollution were caused by ischemic heart disease and stroke, 18% were caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and acute lower respiratory infections, while 6% can be attributed to lung cancer1 . Particulate matter is associated with an increased incidence of cancer, especially lung cancer, according to an assessment carried out in 2013 by the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). An association has also been observed between outdoor air pollution and increased urinary tract/bladder cancer (WHO, 2019). 

Most sources of air pollution are far beyond the control of individuals, as pointed out by the WHO, which requires coordinated action by policymakers at the local, national and regional levels, in the different sectors involved: transport, energy, management of waste, urban planning and agriculture. 

Seeking to contribute with relevant studies to support public policies focused on energy, the Energy Research Office (EPE) prepared an assessment of the impact on human health resulting from the use of biofuels in the transport sector. 

This study will use the methodology described by the WHO, in its AirQ+ manuals, applying it to the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo (RMSP), chosen for the study due to the availability of data, with emphasis on the atmospheric pollution inventory (CETESB, 2018). For this, two macroanalyses will be carried out, the first focusing on the use of ethanol in light vehicles and the second on the addition of ester-based biodiesel to diesel B.

It should be noted that, although other pollutants also cause significant impacts on human health, this analysis will focus only on particulate matter, especially PM 2.5, which causes the greatest effect of all. The simulations ran are based on the 2018 RMSP fleet, the year in which the measurements were recorded.

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