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Ozone levels have sizeable impact on worker productivity

Researchers in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health assessed the impact of pollution on agricultural worker productivity using daily variations in ozone levels.

Their results show that ozone, even at levels below current air-quality standards in most parts of the world, has significant negative impacts on worker productivity. Their findings suggest that environmental protection is important for promoting economic growth and investing in human capital in contrast to its common portrayal as a tax on producers. Results of the study are published in the American Economic Review.

Ozone pollution continues to be a pervasive global issue with much debate over optimal levels. While policy makers routinely note that regulating ozone smog leads to many health benefits like reduced hospitalizations and mortality rates, Matthew Neidell, PhD, associate professor at the Mailman School and principal investigator, set out to investigate whether lower air pollution might also affect job performance. Until this research, there had been no systematic evidence on the direct impact of pollution on worker productivity.

The researchers found that a 10 ppb (parts per billion) change in average ozone exposure results in a significant 5.5 percent change in agricultural worker productivity. "These estimates are particularly noteworthy as the U.S. EPA is currently moving in the direction of reducing federal ground-level ozone standards," said Dr.Neidell, PhD. This past September President Obama said he would not support a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency to tighten the federal ozone standard because it would pose too heavy a burden on businesses, which stunned public health experts and environmentalists.

Dr. Neidell also points out that in developing countries where environmental regulations are less strict and agriculture plays a more dominant role in the economy, the effects reported here may have a vast detrimental impact on a country's prosperity.

About Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Founded in 1922 as one of the first three public health academies in the nation, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 450 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,300 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master's and doctoral degree programs. The Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers including the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP), the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit

Stephanie Berger | EurekAlert!
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