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The social cost of leaded gasoline: Evidence from regulatory exemptions

Date and Time

Thursday 06/27/2019 10:00AM to 11:30AM EDT
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Room 1426, William Jefferson Clinton West Building
1301 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20001


Contact: Carl Pasurka, 202-566-2275

Presenter:  Alex Hollingsworth (School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University)

Description:  Despite the well-established link between lead exposure and adverse health effects, lead is still used in gasoline in the United States for aviation and automotive racing. We exploit a natural experiment where two major stock car racing organizations switched from leaded to unleaded gasoline in 2007 and find robust evidence that leaded gasoline use increases ambient lead concentrations, increases rates of elevated blood lead levels, reduces standardized test scores, and increases cardiovascular and respiratory elderly mortality. Conservatively, our findings suggest that the average social benefits per child from a permanent 100 pound reduction of annual in-county lead emissions are over $1,900 per child. Automotive races are an ideal setting to study affects of lead because of the large amount of lead emitted (one NASCAR race may emit as much as twice the average airport’s annual lead emissions) and because races continued in the same locations after the removal of lead.  Our work makes several contributions to the literature.  First, we directly link outcomes to leaded miles driven instead a proxy for lead exposure. Second, we separately identify the effect of lead from other correlated pollutants. Third, we use the same quasi-experimental setting to estimate the impact of lead on each link in emission-outcome chain (air pollution, soil deposition, blood-accumulation, and health outcomes) aiding both internal validity and comparability. Fourth, our setting demonstrates effects of exposure when ambient pollution levels are low, helping to trace out the marginal damage curve at pollution levels that are relevant today.  This helps to form more accurate estimates of the costs of industry specific exemptions for the use of leaded gasoline and of the cost of allowing a small amount of lead to remain in unleaded gasoline.  Finally, we contribute by estimating a lower bound on the social cost of leaded gasoline.