New Study Says Bad Air Makes for Bad Workers New Study Says Bad Air Makes for Bad Workers
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New Study Says Bad Air Makes for Bad Workers

by Ben Jervey

May 5, 2011

We already know that the Clean Air Act and other pollution controls save money in averted health care costs. But all too often, polluters or the politicians in their pockets argue that implementing new pollution controls would hurt the economy.

On Think Progress, Matt Yglesias writes about a new report out of the National Bureau of Economic Research that adds a new twist to that debate. In “The Impact of Pollution on Worker Productivity" the authors find "robust evidence" that ozone levels—one of the most common local pollutants—have a "significant impact on productivity." In other words, bad air quality makes workers less productive, thereby hurting business.

More specficially:

We find robust evidence that ozone levels well below federal air quality standards have a significant impact on productivity: a 10 ppb decrease in ozone concentrations increases worker productivity by 4.2 percent.

Later, the authors explain:

Importantly, this environmental productivity effect suggests that common characterizations of environmental protection as purely a tax on producers and consumers to be weighed against the consumption benefits associated with improved environmental quality may be misguided. Environmental protection can also be viewed as an investment in human capital, and its contribution to firm productivity and economic growth should be incorporated in the calculus of policy makers.

You hear that? Environmental protection can be viewed as an investment in human capital. While it may seem like the most obvious thing in the world to say that "clean air is good for us," we desperately need more research on the actual economic benefits of clean air. Read more at Think Progress.

Photo (cc) by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com on Flickr

Ben Jervey More Info

Ben is a writer and editor covering climate change, energy, and environment, and is currently the Climate and Energy Media Fellow at Vermont Law School. He was the original Environment Editor at GOOD Magazine and his work has appeared regularly in National Geographic News, Grist, DeSmogBlog, and OnEarth. He recently worked with the non-profit Focus the Nation to publish an Energy 101 primer. When living in New York City, he wrote a book, The Big Green Apple, on how to live a lower impact life in the city. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.
Some recent articles by Ben Jervey:
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New Study Says Bad Air Makes for Bad Workers