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The impact of car pollution on infant and child health: Evidence from emissions cheating

Jun 2019
Working Paper
19-014
By  Diane Alexander, Hannes Schwandt

Car exhaust is a major source of air pollution, but little is known about its impacts on population health. We exploit the dispersion of emissions-cheating diesel cars — which secretly polluted up to 150 times as much as gasoline cars — across the United States from 2008-2015 as a natural experiment to measure the health impact of car pollution. Using the universe of vehicle registrations, we demonstrate that a 10 percent cheating-induced increase in car exhaust increases rates of low birth weight and acute asthma attacks among children by 1.9 and 8.0 percent, respectively. These health impacts occur at all pollution levels and across the entire socioeconomic spectrum.