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

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  • Alan Barreca
  • Karen Clay
  • Joel Tarr

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Alan Barreca & Karen Clay & Joel Tarr, 2014. "Coal, Smoke, and Death: Bituminous Coal and American Home Heating," NBER Working Papers 19881, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19881
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    Cited by:

    1. Cesur, Resul & Tekin, Erdal & Ulker, Aydogan, 2018. "Can natural gas save lives? Evidence from the deployment of a fuel delivery system in a developing country," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 91-108.
    2. W. Walker Hanlon & Yuan Tian, 2015. "Killer Cities: Past and Present," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(5), pages 570-575, May.
    3. Arthi, Vellore & Parman, John, 2021. "Disease, downturns, and wellbeing: Economic history and the long-run impacts of COVID-19," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 79(C).
    4. W. Walker Hanlon, 2016. "Coal Smoke and the Costs of the Industrial Revolution," NBER Working Papers 22921, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Stephan Heblich & Alex Trew & Yanos Zylberberg, 2021. "East-Side Story: Historical Pollution and Persistent Neighborhood Sorting," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 129(5), pages 1508-1552.
    6. Walker Hanlon, 2018. "London fog: A century of pollution and mortality, 1866-1965," Working Papers 18019, Economic History Society.
    7. Clay, Karen & Lewis, Joshua & Severnini, Edson R., 2016. "Canary in a Coal Mine: Infant Mortality, Property Values, and Tradeoffs Associated with Mid-20th Century Air Pollution," IZA Discussion Papers 9884, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    8. Kahn, Matthew E. & Walsh, Randall, 2015. "Cities and the Environment," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, in: Gilles Duranton & J. V. Henderson & William C. Strange (ed.), Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, edition 1, volume 5, chapter 0, pages 405-465, Elsevier.
    9. W. Walker Hanlon, 2015. "Pollution and Mortality in the 19th Century," NBER Working Papers 21647, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. W Walker Hanlon, 2020. "Coal Smoke, City Growth, and the Costs of the Industrial Revolution," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 130(626), pages 462-488.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • N52 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • Q53 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Air Pollution; Water Pollution; Noise; Hazardous Waste; Solid Waste; Recycling

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