Wildfire Smoke Exposure Worsens Learning Outcomes

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. This is version 1 of this Preprint.


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Jeff Wen , Marshall Burke


Wildfires and associated smoke exposure have increased in frequency and severity over the past two decades, threatening to undo decades of air quality improvements. Our understanding of the impacts of these growing exposures on a range of societal outcomes remains incomplete. Building on emerging evidence that environmental exposures can negatively affect cognition, we investigate the effect of wildfire smoke exposure on learning outcomes across the US. We combine standardized test score data from 2009-2016 for nearly 11,700 public school districts across 6 grades with satellite-derived estimates of daily smoke exposure. We estimate that relative to a school year with no smoke, average cumulative daily smoke-attributable PM2.5 exposure during the school year (~35 ug/m^3) reduces both English language arts and math scores by ~0.16% of a standard deviation. These impacts are more pronounced among younger primary school students and are apparent across communities with differing levels of economic disadvantage and racial-ethnic composition. Using previous estimates of the relationship between test score performance and future earnings, we estimate that smoke PM2.5 exposure in 2016 reduced discounted future earnings by $117 per student, resulting in cumulative future earning losses of nearly $1.9 billion across the US. Roughly 80% of these costs are borne by disadvantaged districts. Our findings quantify a previously unaccounted for social cost of wildfire that is likely to worsen under a warming climate.




Environmental Public Health, Environmental Sciences, Environmental Studies, Statistical Models


air pollution, wildfire, wildfire smoke, health impacts


Published: 2021-12-08 16:51

Last Updated: 2021-12-08 16:51


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Data and code will be made available upon publication

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