Upshot Extra: The harms of pollution

My Upshot post today is about the long-term human capital and productivity effects of pollution, whether from industrial sources or California’s wildfires. A few paragraphs couldn’t fit, due to space:

  • Though the mechanism is not fully understood, pollution can also affect cognition. Recent research linked air pollution in China to cognitive decline — most acutely in older men — as measured by verbal and math tests.
  • A U.S. study by economists with the University of Arizona found that long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. By analyzing Medicare data on about 7 million people over 1999-2013, merged with pollution levels where people lived, the study found that a 9 percent increase in particulate matter raises the probability of a dementia diagnoses by almost 7 percent, an effect equivalent to increasing a 74 year old woman’s age to 77.
  • One study of ozone pollution in California’s Central Valley found that harvest volume of agricultural workers fell 5.5 percent when ozone pollution increased 20 percent above its average.


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