New focus on air pollution and worker productivity

While the negative effects of air pollution on health are well documented and rightfully alarming, new evidence is mounting that air pollution also harms the economy.

An article late last week from the prestigious Brookings Institutionconcluded that air pollution has a direct negative effect on the health and thus the productivity of the available labor force now and into the future.

More evidence of the economic impact of dirty air came recently from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

“The Impact of Pollution on Worker Productivity,” a white paper from NBER, found that the productivity of farm laborers in California increases by 4.2 percent for every 10 ppb decrease in ozone concentrations in the air.

Journalists can download the full report for free at

Some see the NBER report as solid evidence that tougher standards on ozone and particle air pollution are warranted, despite claims from others that tougher standards will slow the struggling economic recovery.

Setting politics aside, writer Ariel Schwartz of the entrepreneur publication“Fast Company” argues that the air pollution and productivity study has an immediate and relevant message for office workers too.

The issue is indoor air quality. “Stale air really does make it hard to work,” Schwartz notes. The recommendation: ventilation.

There is research to support the case that indoor air quality directly affects worker productivity, as Schwartz notes. One example: “The Impact of Ventilation on Productivity,” a study conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found evidence, but not proof, that ventilation negatively affected the productivity of workers at a call-in center.

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