World

Clean lockdown air saves lives, especially in Los Angeles

Bloomberg

America’s air is cleaner as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, and that’s likely to reduce the number of premature deaths caused by pollution, according to a new study.

The number of such deaths is set to drop by about 360 per month while current conditions persist, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. That’s a consequence of lower carbon emissions as Americans shift to working from home and adjust their shopping habits — leading to less travel and power consumption.

By far the biggest beneficiary is the Los Angeles metro area, with New York City a distant second, the study found.

The researchers estimate that the monetary equivalent of these changes would be about $5.5 billion a month, based on standard statistical assumptions that place the value of a life at $9 million, and the social cost of carbon at $50 per ton.

To be sure, the virus-induced lockdown will have other secondary effects on public health too, potentially leading to many more deaths.

For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control warned last week of a “notable decrease in orders” for childhood vaccines including measles under the emergency conditions. And Merck & Co. says there’s been a sharp drop in prescriptions for cancer medications because social distancing measures have reduced access to health care providers.

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