Job Market Paper

Abstract: There is no known safe level of lead pollution exposure. Many countries have taken steps in the last half century to remove lead from their environments, but, at times, these policies can cause pollution sources to shift to countries with weaker regulatory environments. Previous studies have theorized about and empirically documented this ‘pollution haven’ phenomenon, but few have examined the costs borne by recipient communities. In the setting we study, a 2009 tightening of environmental standards in the United States caused used lead-acid battery recycling, an industry that emits large amounts of lead pollution, to shift to Mexico. We estimate the effects of this increased industrial activity and associated pollution on student learning in recipient communities in Mexico. We use data from a nationwide test in Spanish and math, conducted from 2006 to 2013. We compare test scores before and after the 2009 U.S. policy change among students attending schools near and downwind of Mexican recycling facilities and those studying farther away. We estimate effects on test scores of negative 0.05-0.09 standard deviations, with effects being slightly stronger for math than Spanish. Comparing dynamic effects across grades, we find suggestive evidence that effects are stronger for students who were younger in 2009. We also compare effects across communities, showing that the costs to education are heavily concentrated in communities that were already worse off before the 2009 change in lead-acid battery recycling activity. The results of our study underline the importance of considering unintended consequences and cross-border spillovers when regulating toxic pollutants. The heterogeneity of effects across communities highlights the need for more research on the costs of lead pollution exposure in low- and middle-income countries, where the vast majority of exposure occurs today.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Book Chapters

Working Papers

Ongoing Projects

Other Publications