On the Road to Recovery: Gasoline Content Regulations and Child Health, Journal of Health Economics 54 (2017): 98-123.
Abstract: Gasoline content regulations are designed to curb pollution and improve health, but the impact on health has not been quantified. By exploiting both the timing of regulation and spatial variation in children’s exposure to highways, I estimate the effect of gasoline regulation on pollution and child health. The introduction of cleaner-burning gasoline in California in 1996 reduced asthma admissions by 8% in high exposure areas. Reductions are greatest for areas downwind from highways and heavy traffic areas. Stringent gasoline content regulations can improve child health, and may diminish existing health disparities.
Going Beneath the Surface: Petroleum Pollution, Regulation, and Health
Abstract: Governments can address the growing concern over human exposure to environmental pollution through directing cleanup efforts ex-post, regulating industry to reduce future pollution, or warning the public to encourage avoidance behaviors. While we have some evidence of the benefits of large government cleanups, we have less evidence of the benefits of mandated adoption of preventative technology. This paper quantifies the health impacts of a relatively small but widespread pollution source and explores whether the adoption of preventative technologies can improve health. I estimate the effect of exposure to leaking underground storage tanks on infant health using data on maternal addresses to identify precise proximity to sites, and leak timing data to determine exposure during gestation. By exploiting panel data on mothers, I estimate the relative difference in sibling outcomes between exposed and unexposed siblings born to mothers within two narrow distance bands from a leak site. Exposure increases both the probability of low birth weight and preterm birth by about 7-8 percent. Compliance with regulations requiring preventative technologies ultimately succeeded in mitigating the entire effect of leak exposure on low birth weight. Finally, I exploit this unique setting in which residents are unlikely to know about underground leaks to study the impact of information on avoidance behaviors.
Testing the Water: Drinking Water Quality, Public Notification, and School Absences
Abstract: This is the first paper to estimate the effect of water quality violations on school absences and test scores in the United States. Many common water pollutants have the potential to affect child health. Microorganisms, such as coliform bacteria, pose immediate threats to gastrointestinal health, while other contaminants can cause dizziness, sleepiness, and headaches in the short-term and developmental effects and cancer in the long-term. These health effects may be difficult to observe in traditional health data, such as emergency room visits, which can only capture extreme health episodes. Poor water quality may be more likely to translate into school absences, reduced concentration, or reduced performance during school. Using administrative data on school attendance, water quality violations, and community water supply systems, I quantify the effect of health-based water quality violations on school absences and test scores in North Carolina. Exposure to acute and monthly coliform bacteria violations increases school absences by 7 and 4 percent, respectively. Although both acute and monthly coliform violations worsen school outcomes, only acute violations increase bottled water purchases. Unlike monthly coliform violations, acute violations require immediate 24 hour public notice, which suggests that the method and timing of notification has an important impact on avoidance behaviors.
Selected Work In Progress
A Little Pain for Birth Weight Gain: Influenza Vaccine Match Rate and Neonatal Health (with Desislava Byanova and Joseph Acquah)
Abstract: Research studying short and long-run impacts of influenza are predominantly focused on flu pandemics, when the negative implications are most stark. However, many of these pandemics occurred in the early 20th century before the substantial decline in influenza-related mortality driven by new medical technologies and advancement in hygiene practices. Consequently, the impact of the modern day non-pandemic influenza season may be substantially different from the impact of pandemics occurring in the early part of the 20th century. This paper exploits exogenous variation in vaccine match rate quality and addresses the endogeneity of seasonal influenza severity and vaccination rates by using absolute humidity and an exogenous vaccine supply shock as instruments, in order to quantify the impact of seasonal influenza severity and vaccine effectiveness on birth outcomes in a developed, modern day context. Findings indicate that a one-standard-deviation increase in the vaccine match rate or the vaccination rate leads to a 4 percent or 2 percent decrease in the probability of low birth weight and a 9 percent or 4 percent decrease in the probability of preterm birth, respectively.
Aerobic Capacity and Pollution at Schools
Abstract: Many worry that the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) have been set without full knowledge of the health consequences of air pollution. Children are particularly sensitive to air pollution. Although air pollution has been linked to hospitalizations for asthma and infant death, these are severe outcomes. Less extreme effects on respiratory health, even among non-asthmatic children, are possible at levels below the EPA’s thresholds, but these effects are difficult to measure. I use a more sensitive measure, aerobic capacity (VO2 max), to study the impact of air pollution on respiratory health at levels below current NAAQS thresholds. Using school district level data from the California Physical Fitness Test, I estimate the impact of fluctuations in daily pollution levels during the testing window on the aerobic capacity for students in grades 5, 7, and 9. I find that air pollution affects child aerobic capacity at levels even below the EPA threshold and that Black and Hispanic children are especially affected.
Fueling Change? The Impact of Gas Station Shutdowns on Health and Neighborhoods