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How much air pollution do we emit on the hottest summer days?

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DTE's St. Clair Power Plant in East China, Michigan. The plant burns a blend of low-sulfur western coal and high-sulfur eastern coal. Coal-burning power plants are one of the biggest sources of man-made mercury pollution.

It makes sense that the more we run our air conditioners during the heat of the summer, the more pollution we put into the air. But now scientists have figured out exactly how much more.

David Abel is the lead author of a studyin the journal Environmental Science & Technology, and a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“There was really this gap in actually quantifying it in a way that it could be used to improve our air quality,” he says.

He and his team looked at power plant emissions and temperature in 26 states, including Michigan.

“Michigan has 14 metric tons of sulfur dioxide added to the air for every degree Celsius,” he says.

They ran the numbers for other pollutants that contribute to ozone pollution and climate change.

The bottom line here?

“The easiest to say, at least, is we want to have less air conditioning use, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the right thing to say. When it’s hot outside, people need their air conditioning. And there’s a lot of technical solutions that we have,” says Abel.

He says things like buying more efficient air conditioners and more efficient light bulbs can go a long way, along with using more renewable energy.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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