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Smart Tips - Fossil Fuels

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Smart Tip - Reduce the Health Impacts of Fossil Fuel Energy

Tip: Did you know:

  • That burning fossil fuels, such as petroleum, coal and natural gas, contributes to air pollution?1
  • That air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk, and that outdoor air pollution alone is responsible for 4.2 million global deaths each year2.
  • There are steps that each of us can take that will not only protect our individual health but improve the health of our community, help to stabilize the climate, and lead toward better global health3,4.

To read more…

Quick Tips



Support health-protecting policies


Quick Tips for Reducing Your Use of Fossil Fuels

Read on for more recommendations and information about the health impacts of fossil fuels.


Health Impacts of Burning Fossil Fuels

Smog and air pollutants that are produced from burning fossil fuels may trigger asthma, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, and cause or make existing respiratory disease worse. Burning fossil fuels can lead to a byproduct called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), many of which are considered potential carcinogens and may increase the risk of breast cancer according to a study completed on Long Island 7.

Power Plants and Mercury

About 50 percent of all mercury that is released into the air comes from fossil fuel (coal) burning power plants . Releases of mercury to the environment can accumulate in fish. This is a concern because exposure to mercury can lead to adverse health effects especially in an unborn child. Therefore, pregnant women and those populations that consume a large amount of fish (e.g., people who rely on fish as their primary food source) need to be careful that they are not consuming fish that have a high amount of mercury (see information below) .

Changing Climate

In addition to local and personal health effects, the burning of fossil fuel impacts global health due to its role in climate change. The addition of carbon dioxide (CO2), a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion, to the atmosphere is a cause of rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. Climatic changes are estimated to currently cause over 150,000 deaths annually . Rising temperatures are leading to more frequent and intense heat waves which can cause illness and death in those at risk from cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Heat waves can also increase the level of pollutants in the air, increasing risk of illness from cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and asthma. Changing rainfall patterns are expected to spread the risk of many diseases. Waterborne infectious diseases, mosquito-transmitted diseases such as malaria and Zika, malnutrition, dehydration, and diarrheal-related mortality are expected to spread globally. The most vulnerable people to the effects of climate change are those who live in coastal regions like Long Island, megacities, developing countries, mountainous areas, and Polar regions. Children are particularly vulnerable to the resulting health risks and will be exposed longer to the health consequences of air pollution 11,12.


Reduce your Personal Health Risks from Pollutions

  • Bookmark these links to the Air Quality Index (AQI) for your area to see your local, daily air quality, and what associated health effects might be a concern: AQI for New York:
  • When ground level ozone is high, consider limiting strenuous outdoor physical activities, particularly in the afternoon and early evening. This is particularly important for sensitive populations such as:
    • people with lung disease
    • children
    • older adults, and
    • people who are physically active outdoors
  • Those with symptoms of ozone exposure should consult their doctor if experiencing:
    • irritation in the eyes, nose and throat.
    • shortness of breath, chest pain, or wheezing13.
  • Avoid strenuous physical activity near busy roads.
  • On days with high particle pollution, reduce the time spent in your car, avoid using gas powered lawn and garden equipment, and avoid burning leaves or trash.
  • Reduce risk of long term negative effects from air pollution, engage in a healthy lifestyle--exercise and eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to reduce your risk of chronic disease and cancer overall.
  • Avoid exposure to mercury (in the form of methyl mercury) in fish. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise that women of childbearing age, pregnant or breast feeding women and young children consume fish that is lower in mercury, and entirely avoid fish that is higher in mercury14.
  • To find out more about the EPA and FDA advice go to:

  • Fish advisories may be issued due to local contamination. For more information about advisories in New York State:

Support Policy Changes to Reduce Pollution

Support the use of renewable energy programs, such as wind, water, and solar. Economic analyses, including one specific to Long Island, suggest that moving to clean energy is indeed possible on Long Island and would:

  • have modest costs.
  • foster local economic development.
  • offer insurance against fluctuations in fuel prices and
  • minimize harmful environmental and health impacts of power generation15, 16.

New York is already committed to the 50 by 30 renewables standard, requiring New York utilities and other electricity suppliers to obtain 50 percent of New York’s electricity from truly renewable and pollution-free energy resources—including solar, land-based and offshore wind power, and hydropower—by 2030. Governor Cuomo has also set an unprecedented commitment to responsibly develop 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind—enough to power up to 1.2 million homes, by 203017.

Resources to help you Quit

Air Quality Index for New York:

Air Quality Index nation-wide:

For information about interpreting the Air Quality Index:

Public Transportation on Long Island:

Free Home Energy Audits with LI Green Homes:

Check to see when Community Solar becomes available in your area:

Fish Advisories for New York City and Long Island:

Eating Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know:


1 US EPA, 2018. Carbon Pollution form Transportation. Last Updated July 17, 2017. Accessed July 11, 2018.

2 World Health Organization, 2018. Ambient (Outdoor) Air Quality and Health. May 2, 2018

3 US EPA, 2017. What You Can Do about Climate Change. January 19, 2017

4 US EPA Household Carbon Footprint Calculator. Accessed November 29, 2018

5 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow. Environmental Issues and Options.

6 US EPA, 2017. What You Can Do to Reduce Pollution from Vehicles and Engines. Last Updated January 10, 2017.

7 Gammon MD, et. al., 2002. Environmental toxins in breast cancer on Long Island. I. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon DNA adducts. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. August. 11(8):677-85.

8 US National Library of Medicine, 2017. Tox Town; Coal-Fired Power Plants. April 4, 2017

9 World Health Organization, 2017. Mercury and Health. March 31, 2017.

10 World Health Organization, 2018. Climate Change. The Health and Environment Linkages Initiative (HELI).

11 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016. Climate and Health. Last Updated July 26, 2016.

12 World Health Organization, 2018. Climate Change and Health. February 1, 2018.