Environmental Health

Environmental threats to human health are costly not just to the individuals suffering from disease and disability, but also to society as a whole. Policymakers need to understand the economics of disease control—its costs and the value of its human health benefits. One threat is air pollution, particularly in developing countries, whose air quality worsens as their economies grow. Studies in China, Taiwan, India, and Guatemala are revealing both the extent of the problem and the potential benefits of air pollution control for reducing respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and premature mortality. In China, more than 50 percent of urban residents breathe air containing, on average, four times more particulate matter than in U.S. cities. The value of the 350,000 lives lost because of air pollution in 2003 was equivalent to 4 percent of China’s GDP. Using well-established methods, CDDEP researchers have conducted cost-benefit analyses to help determine what level of effort China should put into controlling emissions. Future studies will provide a means of benchmarking progress. Another threat is common to both developing and industrialized countries: food safety. The extent of this problem is unknown because foodborne pathogens are not easily traced to ingestion of particular foods. Governments need better information so that they can design effective regulations that target real problems. CDDEP researchers are using expert elicitation techniques to estimate disease incidence from epidemiological data and then attribute it back to the sources of infection. The results will inform a risk ranking model for U.S. federal policy, with the ultimate aim of reducing risks to consumers and avoiding costly recalls of possibly contaminated food.