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02/13/2020

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Natalie Burden

In her paper “Pollution and Infant Health,” Currie’s discussion of Health at Birth and Environmental Justice resonated with me more than other sections because of the discussions I have been having in my Spanish course this term on migration topics, in which much of our focus has been on child migrants. One of the recurring themes in books, poems, and documentaries that we have read and watched has been migrants’ interactions with pollution, whether that exposure happens in the native country––where a child has grown up in very close proximity to the factory where his or her parents work––or during the journey to the North––during which a child travels on the tops of freight trains hundreds of miles, and has extremely limited access to clean food and clean water, exposing himself or herself to pollution via contaminated water and freight train exhaust. Although child migrants’ journeys probably do not last long enough to have lasting impacts on their health, if they have grown up near pollution sites, they probably have been significantly harmed by pollution. It is especially alarming to read this paper studying low levels of pollution after reading poems about growing up exposed to high levels of pollution (specifically “La memoria de la tierra sagrada” by Liliana Ancalao, for reference), playing underneath metal bridges, by little rivers of water, oil, and petroleum. The data in Currie’s paper that correlated both lower education and minority mothers with greater effects from pollution in their infants in a number of different contexts made me think about the relationship between mothers’ education levels and the effects of pollution on infants’ health within Mexico, or some other Central or Latin American country. Based on what I’ve learned in the Spanish course, low economic mobility in many of these countries (reinforced by the inaffordability of keeping a child in school for many years) could be a major factor in reducing mothers’ mobility to move away from sources of pollution if those pollution sources are also a source of employment. So, going back to Liliana Ancalao’s poem, she was likely highly exposed to pollution that damaged her health as a child, the extent of which was likely exacerbated by her parents’ immobility and potential lack of education about health effects from pollution.

Maisie Strawn

Janet Currie’s “Pollution and Infant Health,” was fascinating and disturbing. I had several takeaways. First, the way they are able to use natural experiments to establish causality is remarkable. We discussed the EZ-Pass experiment in my Econometrics class as an example of one of the notable ways economists/scientists are able to exploit exogenous changes in order to design a study that is as if there was random assignment. This made me think about the Yale360 article on Michael Hendryx’s research on MTR coal mining. I wonder if there are any natural experiment situations Hendryx could use to begin to establish the causal link that the industry claims must be present to prove that spikes in illness are actually caused by pollution from MTR. Second, some of the statistics from this paper are just so striking: moving from an area of higher CO levels to an area of lower levels had a more significant effect on infant health than convincing a mother who smoked ten cigarettes a day to stop! I found this one particularly disturbing, as most of the time I don’t think people really know the amount of pollution to which they are being exposed. A pregnant woman could be taking every precaution for the health of her unborn child but not know that the air she is breathing could cause it more harm than if she chose to smoke every day. To that point, this article also reminded me of my Environmental Policy and Law class and particularly the regulation of air and water pollutants. I believe there is an assumption among most Americans that our government and regulators are effectively keeping us safe from dangerous pollutants; unfortunately this is just not really the case. As Currie mentions in her article, the Clean Air Act only really monitors six key pollutants, particulate matter, CO, ozone, lead, sulfur dioxide, and nitrous oxides, but industry pumps out far more chemicals than that each day and develops thousands more new chemicals each year. Regulators cannot possibly test and monitor all these possible pollutants under the current system, so there is a lot we don’t know about how different chemicals in our air and water are affecting us. Furthermore, and as Currie addresses in her article, minorities and low-income individuals are disproportionately affected by these pollutants. These inequities must be kept in mind as we (hopefully) begin to better regulate pollutants; economic efficiency cannot be the only consideration, but rather a starting point. Perhaps the best place we could start in addressing pollution is just making the general public aware of the magnitude of chemicals entering our air and water.

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