NBER Study Links Less Ozone with Reduced Productivity

The conclusions of a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) show that when air quality decreases, so does worker productivity. According to the report by Joshua S. Graff Zivin and Mathew J. Neidell, entitled “The Impact of Pollution on Worker Productivity,” there is strong 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.”

Unique Study Shows Link Between Pollution and Productivity

It is not new information that clean air legislation leads to improved public health, with benefits that far exceed costs. There are also numerous studies showing that human performance greatly improves with well-designed and healthful indoor environments.  Surprisingly however, until this study by the NBER there has never been research which

“rigorously assesses the less visible but likely more pervasive impacts on worker productivity.”

“Our results indicate that ozone, even at levels below current air quality standards in most of the world, has significant negative impacts on worker productivity, suggesting that the strengthening of regulations on ozone pollution would yield additional benefits,” say Zevin and Neidell.

High Cost of Pollution to Society

The study addresses directly the cost of lost productivity in agriculture in California and in China:

“The environmental productivity effect estimated in the Central Valley of California to the whole of the U.S. suggests that a 10 ppb reduction in the ozone standard would translate into an annual cost savings of approximately $1.1 billion in labor expenditure.  In the developing world, where national incomes depend more heavily on agriculture, these productivity effects are likely to have a much larger impact on the economy. These impacts may be especially large in countries like India, China, and Mexico, where rapid industrial growth and automobile penetration contribute precursor chemicals that contribute to substantially higher levels of ozone pollution.”

Global Warming Bad for Business

It is clear that more research is needed, but there is a fear today that global warming is leading to highly negative consequences, and not only because of the fear of natural disasters.

“It’s widely agreed that warming over 6°C would have disastrous consequences for humankind. Increased drought and rising sea levels are the usual poster boys for climate impacts (and for good reason). However, the direct impact of heat stress on humans gives us a clear climate impact benchmark. Some argue that humans will simply adapt, as we already tolerate a wide range of climates today. But a new paper An adaptability limit to climate change due to heat stress (Sherwood 2010) shows this argument is false. Even modest global warming could expose large fractions of the population to unprecedented heat stress, and severe warming would lead to intolerable conditions over wide regions.”

This is clearly a top priority for anyone concerned with public policy and human health.