The quality of the air we breathe has a direct effect on our overall health. Poor air quality caused by air pollution increases our risk of respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and even dementia. For those with serious health issues like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the effects are even more severe. Older adults, children, and people with heart or lung disease are most likely to be negatively affected by fine particulate matter (PM2.5). And those who recreate or work outside can be affected by exposure to ozone.
Both types of pollution are present in Idaho, especially in the most populated area, the Treasure Valley (Ada and Canyon counties). Inversions in wintertime that last for days or weeks trap cold air and pollutants near the ground resulting in poor air quality. Ozone can also accumulate in the valley during summertime due to calm winds, intense sunlight, and high temperatures. Other areas also experiencing inversions include Shoshone County (northern ID) and Franklin County (in southeastern ID due to its proximity to Logan in Utah’s Cache Valley). The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has a map of the Air Quality Priority Areas and real-time air quality monitoring.
Vehicles with internal combustion engines are one of the main contributors to PM2.5 and ozone. Carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, volatile organic compounds, and fine particulate matter are all products of fossil fuel combustion. Electric vehicles do not directly combust fossil fuels, although the electricity that EV’s are charged with may be produced with the combustion of fossil fuels (coal and natural gas). Electricity production in Idaho is relatively clean compared to the rest of the nation. For example in 2020, Idaho Power produced 41.7% of its electricity using hydropower, 11.1% from wind, 4.1% from solar and 2.9% from geothermal or biomass. Natural gas and coal were used to produce 32.8% of the electricity. For comparison, the United States as a whole produced 61% of it’s electricity from fossil fuel combustion. By transitioning from vehicles powered by internal combustion engines to electric vehicles, Idahoans can have a direct and positive affect on our local air quality.