Air pollution impacts productivity. Mitigations generate economic gains

News: Researcher from Columbia University outlines the economic costs of human exposure to air pollution.

What are the impacts of air pollution on human well-being?

It includes both health outcomes and non-health outcomes

Impact on health outcomes:

PM 2.5 can affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

Children, when exposed to air pollution during sensitive periods in their lives, it impacts their cognitive performance.

Non-health outcomes:

Impact on worker productivity: for instance, if a farmer, is exposed to high levels of air pollution, it could lead to laboured breathing or changes in the heart rate which can impact the ability to work.

Sizable economic damages: Decreased worker productivity when valued in terms of money, it gets translated to millions of dollars being lost. In India, which has much greater air pollution levels, the economic damages are likely to be much higher.

Impact on living organisms:

Impact on butterflies: Increased Nitrogen deposits in soil due to air pollution creates acidic conditions. This reduces the nutrients caterpillars need to grow.

Impact on Koalas: air pollution via carbon dioxide in the atmosphere gradually destroys the nutrients from the eucalyptus leaves which koalas eat. Further, Carbon dioxide in eucalyptus builds up toxic ‘anti-nutrients’ like tannin which cannot be digested by koalas. As a consequence, koalas could significantly decline due to a loss in these leaves.

Impact on small birds: Studies in the US have found that Ozone pollution damages the respiratory systems and reduces the food sources of small birds like sparrows, warblers and finches.

What are the recommendations for air pollution mitigations in India?

First, mitigations can either reduce the use of fossil fuels or capture the emissions from the fossil fuel by including measures like catalytic converters for cars.

Second, transitioning to clean energy like solar or wind power is another mitigation strategy.

Third, for immediate impacts, there could be a driving restriction to reduce the number of vehicles on the road

However, certain factors are key to the success of such mitigations. These include how costly the technology is in terms of application and the impacts on jobs as well as the enforcement and compliance levels which governments can achieve for these.

Source: This post is based on the article “Air pollution impacts productivity. Mitigations generate economic gains” published in ToI on 20th November 2021.

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