Air pollution and COVID-19. Social cost estimate of air pollution-related COVID-19 control measures

As COVID-19 spread across the globe, national and regional governments relied on a combination of measures to slow the spread of the virus. Control measures, such as mask mandates, curfews and closure of schools and non-essential businesses (also known as non-pharmaceutical interventions), have been implemented across Europe. This paper argues that, given current air pollution levels, more and/or stricter control measures were needed to curb the spread of COVID-19 than would have been necessary in a situation with lower levels of air pollution.

Using the Netherlands as a case study, we have estimated the social costs of government-imposed control measures necessitated by air pollution. While the economic costs are relatively easy to measure, the non-economic costs are more difficult to measure and much harder to quantify. Furthermore, even if a researcher obtains a useful estimate of the non-economic costs, it is unclear which part should be attributed to air pollution.

We have developed a model and apply data to estimate the monetary value of the social costs in the Netherlands for the period March 2020–July 2021. Our model combines an infection model with a damage and valuation model. The infection model describes the impact of air pollution on the spread of the virus. The damage and valuation model then estimates the health impacts of the spread of the virus (e.g. hospital admissions, years of life lost). Finally, we base our valuation on cost parameters and literature (e.g. environmental prices handbook).



Robert Vergeer