A new study finds that ozone pollution — one of the main components of urban smog — can do more than cause respiratory illness and increase hospitalizations. It can also lower farmworker productivity.
Columbia University researchers compared data about the productivity of agricultural field workers in California with information about environmental air-quality conditions. They found that variations in even low concentrations of ozone — which forms when car exhaust and industrial emissions are cooked by the summer sun — had a significant impact on productivity.
They estimate that a 10 parts-per-billion decrease in ozone concentrations increases worker productivity by more than 5 percent. That productivity gain could save employers more than $1 billion in labor costs per year.
In countries heavily dependent on agriculture, the environmental effects on labor could have a large economic impact. It could be especially significant in countries like India, China and Mexico, where industrial growth and increased automobile use have led to rising levels of ozone pollution. In the United States, calls for tighter federal limits on ozone pollution have been rejected by the Obama Administration on the grounds they would pose too heavy a burden on businesses. The authors of the new study say that in fact, business would benefit from ozone reductions.
The study – published in The National Bureau of Economic Research – suggests that environmental protection measures could be seen as a way to promote economic growth and increase human capital, rather than as a tax burden on businesses and consumers.