As the Wind Blows: The Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Air Pollution on Mortality

J Eur Econ Assoc. 2020 Aug;18(4):1886-1927. doi: 10.1093/jeea/jvz051. Epub 2019 Oct 3.


There is strong evidence that short-run fluctuations in air pollution negatively impact infant health and contemporaneous adult health, but there is less evidence on the causal link between long-term exposure to air pollution and increased adult mortality. This project estimates the impact of long-term exposure to air pollution on mortality by leveraging quasi-random variation in pollution levels generated by wind patterns near major highways. I combine geocoded data on the residence of every decedent in Los Angeles over three years, high-frequency wind data, and Census short form data. Using these data, I estimate the effect of downwind exposure to highway-generated pollutants on the age-specific mortality rate by using orientation to the nearest major highway as an instrument for pollution exposure. I find that doubling the percentage of time spent downwind of a highway increases mortality among individuals 75 or older by 3.8%-6.5%. These estimates are robust and imply significant loss of life years.