The Great Smog
In December 1952, fog and thick smoke from coal fires combined in the London sky to produce a toxic yellow smog that blocked out the sun for days. The Great Smog, as it came to be known, killed at least 4,000 Londoners.
It seems perverse to think of this horrific event as a natural experiment, but it is useful for studying the underlying cause of asthma and the long-term effects of air pollution exposure, says Jamie Mullins of the Department of Resource Economics.
In a recent study, Mullins and his colleagues found that children exposed to the Great Smog in their first year of life developed asthma at four to five times the baseline rate. They also had a two to three times higher incidence of adult asthma.
“We feel like we’re shining some light on the underlying causes of asthma and bringing attention to the enduring effects of air pollution,” says Mullins. “As economists, we often measure things in dollars, but it’s important to think about the insight we can bring to people’s well-being.”