Air pollution reduces productivity: Study

According to research by economists at the National University of Singapore air pollution reduces worker productivity.

The team spent over a year getting information from China’s factories – interviewing managers in a dozen firms over four provinces.

Finally they managed to get access to data from two textile mills, one in Henan and another in Jiangsu.

The workers at these mills were paid per piece of fabric, so you could see exactly how much they were producing on an individual level.

The economists then compared how productive the workers were – to how much particulate matter there was in the air.

At first there wasn’t much of a difference from day-to-day, but with prolonged exposure to high levels of pollution productivity began to suffer.

“We found that an increase in PM2.5, by 10 micrograms per cubic metre sustained over 25 days, reduces daily output by 1 per cent, harming firms and workers,” Associate Professor Haoming Liu, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement.

My Take

In November Witbank News reported that Mpumalanga was the world’s hottest Nitrogen Dioxide hotspot.

This chemical contributes to the creation of PM2.5 and ozone, both of which are pretty dangerous pollutants.

Now we see exposure to PM2.5 reduces productivity.

Eskom has repeatedly gotten waivers with regards to its emissions – and in November had applied for yet another delay to implementing them.

They will probably get that delay, because they’ve been getting these postponements for years because Eskom supplies our electricity and if that stops so does most of the economy.

But it doesn’t do us much good to be rich, if we can’t breathe. As a nation we should be looking at this research and trying to replicate it ourselves, because we don’t fully understand the cost involved in what we’re doing right now.

Damage to the environment has for far too long been seen almost as being free, when actually it is an uncosted expense. We don’t know how bad the impact really is.

Understanding that is pretty important to our development – because with issues like Eskom we’re stuck with this delicate balancing act between pollution, health and the economy, but we don’t actually fully understand the weights we should assign to each category.

As a country we need to boost our research funding to figure this out – because we cannot rely on the rest of the world doing it for us.


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