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Black Carbon

Effects of Black Carbon

Climate Effects

Map of Greenland showing surface melt duration anomaly days

2007 Greenland Ice Melt

Black Carbon (BC) influences climate by:

  1. directly absorbing light;
  2. reducing the reflectivity (“albedo”) of snow and ice through deposition; and
  3. interacting with clouds. 

Through these mechanisms, BC has been linked to a range of climate impacts, including increased temperatures and accelerated ice and snow melt.  Sensitive regions such as the Arctic and the Himalayas are particularly vulnerable to the warming and melting effects of BC.

BC also contributes to surface dimming, the formation of Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABCs), and changes in the pattern and intensity of precipitation. Reducing current emissions of BC may help slow the near-term rate of climate change, particularly in sensitive regions such as the Arctic. 

  • BC’s short atmospheric lifetime (days to weeks), combined with its strong warming potential, means that targeted strategies to reduce BC emissions can be expected to provide climate benefits within the next several decades.

Public Health Effects

BC contributes to the adverse impacts on human health, ecosystems, and visibility associated with ambient fine particles (PM2.5).  Short-term and long-term exposures to PM2.5 are associated with a broad range of human health impacts, including respiratory and cardiovascular effects as well as premature death.

Image from Kathmandu showing people walking and a brick kiln in the background

Over the past decade, the scientific community has focused increasingly on trying to identify the health impacts of particular PM2.5 constituents, such as BC. However, there currently is insufficient information to differentiate the health effects of these constituents; thus, EPA assumes that many constituents are associated with adverse health impacts. The limited scientific evidence that is currently available about the health effects of BC is generally consistent with the general PM2.5 health literature, with the most consistent evidence for cardiovascular effects.  EPA’s latest Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter provides more information.

In the United States, the average public health benefits associated with reducing directly emitted PM2.5 are estimated to range from $290,000 to $1.2 million per ton PM2.5 in 2030. The cost of the controls necessary to achieve these reductions is generally far lower.

Globally, PM2.5, both ambient and indoor, is estimated to result in millions of premature deaths worldwide, the majority of which occur in developing countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that indoor smoke from solid fuels is among the top ten major risk factors globally, contributing to approximately 2 million deaths annually. Women and children are particularly at risk.  For more information about resources and expertise to reduce smoke exposure from cooking and heating practices in households around the world, please visit the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air Exit EPA Disclaimer. Ambient air pollution is also a significant health threat. For more information on these risks, visit the WHO's full Global Burden of Disease report (PDF) (70 pp, 3.6 MB, about PDF).

Environmental Effects

PM2.5, including BC, is linked to adverse impacts on ecosystems, to visibility impairment, to reduced agricultural production in some parts of the world, and to materials soiling and damage.  For more information about visibility, visit the EPA's Visibility website. And for more information about the effects of particle pollution and acid rain visit the EPA's Acid Rain website.


  • US EPA's Science to Achieve Results Research Grants for Black Carbon: STAR
  • Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme: AMAP Exit EPA Disclaimer
  • Convention on Long Range Transboundard Air Pollution Task Force on Hemispheric Transport of Air Pollution: LRTAP –HTAP Exit EPA Disclaimer


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