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New Study Says Bad Air Makes for Bad Workers

CEOs take note: A compromised ability to breathe makes people less effective cogs in your profit machine.

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, on Flickr

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