Economic Analysis Measures Air Pollution Costs To California Region

A new study released on March 29 puts a $3 billion price tag on the impact of air pollution on the health of San Joaquin Valley (California) residents. Conducted by a team of economists and a leading air-quality expert, the study is the first such analysis of the region's air quality.

"The Health and Related Economic Benefits of Attaining Healthful Air in the San Joaquin Valley" is based on the review and analysis of dozens of peer-reviewed economic and scientific studies. The results include the costs of health problems, premature deaths, missed school days and decreased worker productivity that result from air pollution in the region.

"It's sobering to see the costs exacted by the valley's polluted air. But now we know the price the region pays," said Jane V. Hall, professor of economics and co-director of the California State University, Fullerton's (Cal State Fullerton) Institute for Economic and Environmental Studies.

The research team includes Victor Brajer, Cal State Fullerton professor of economics who has partnered with Hall on a number of environmental economics studies, and Fred Lurmann, who has 27 years of experience in air-quality and exposure analysis, and advises several state air-pollution agencies.

According to the study, the cost of air pollution averages $1,000 per person per year, and represents the following:

  • 460 premature deaths among those age 30 and older
  • 23,300 asthma attacks
  • 188,000 days of school absences
  • 3,230 cases of acute bronchitis in children
  • 3,000 lost work days
  • 325 new cases of chronic bronchitis
  • 188,400 days of reduced activity in adults
  • 260 hospital admissions
  • More than 17,000 days of respiratory symptoms in children

The report indicates that some communities, including those with high populations of Latinos/Hispanics and African-Americans, are harder hit than others, due to the varying concentrations of dirty air around the region.

The report cautions that the problem will become much worse if left unaddressed. The San Joaquin Valley's current population of more than 3 million residents is expected to grow by a third by 2020, with traffic and driving expected to increase at an even greater rate during the same period.

"The San Joaquin Valley can't afford to foot this bill. We're losing lives, money and making the Central Valley an increasingly less attractive place to live and work. It is far too expensive to do nothing. We need to make an investment in the region's economic future," said state Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Air Quality in the Central Valley.

The full report is available on the Web at

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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