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Coal, Smoke, and Death: Bituminous Coal and American Home Heating

  • Barreca, Alan I.


    (Tulane University)

  • Clay, Karen


    (Carnegie Mellon University)

  • Tarr, Joel


    (Carnegie Mellon University)

Air pollution was severe in many urban areas of the United States in the first half of the twentieth century, in part due to the burning of bituminous coal for heat. We estimate the effects of this bituminous coal consumption on mortality rates in the U.S. during the mid-20th century. Coal consumption varied considerably during the 20th century due to coal-labor strikes, wartime oil and gas restrictions, and the expansion of gas pipelines, among other reasons. To mitigate the influence of confounding factors, we use a triple-differences identification strategy that relies on variation in coal consumption at the state-year-season level. It exploits the fact that coal consumption for heating was highest in the winter and uses within-state changes in mortality in non-winter months as an additional control group. Our estimates suggest that reductions in the use of bituminous coal for heating between 1945 and 1960 decreased winter all-age mortality by 1.25 percent and winter infant mortality by 3.27 percent, saving 1,923 all age lives per winter month and 310 infant lives per winter month. Our estimates are likely to be a lower bound, since they primarily capture short-run relationships between coal and mortality.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 7987.

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Length: 46 pages
Date of creation: Feb 2014
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp7987
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  1. Kenneth Y. Chay & Michael Greenstone, 2003. "Air Quality, Infant Mortality, and the Clean Air Act of 1970," Working Papers 0406, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
  2. Douglas Almond & Yuyu Chen & Michael Greenstone & Hongbin Li, 2009. "Winter Heating or Clean Air? Unintended Impacts of China's Huai River Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 184-90, May.
  3. Janet Currie & Matthew J. Neidell & Johannes Schmieder, 2008. "Air Pollution and Infant Health: Lessons from New Jersey," NBER Working Papers 14196, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Janet Currie & Reed Walker, 2011. "Traffic Congestion and Infant Health: Evidence from E-ZPass," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(1), pages 65-90, January.
  5. repec:oup:qjecon:v:118:y:2003:i:3:p:1121-1167 is not listed on IDEAS
  6. Oliva, Paulina & Arceo, Eva & Hanna, Rema N., 2012. "Does the Effect of Pollution on Infant Mortality Differ Between Developing and Developed Countries? Evidence from Mexico City," Scholarly Articles 9924083, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
  7. repec:oup:qjecon:v:120:y:2005:i:3:p:1003-1030 is not listed on IDEAS
  8. Lockwood, Alan H., M.D., 2012. "The Silent Epidemic: Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 026201789x, June.
  9. Christopher R. Knittel & Douglas L. Miller & Nicholas J. Sanders, 2011. "Caution, Drivers! Children Present: Traffic, Pollution, and Infant Health," Working Papers 1113, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
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