Over the last few years, I have read some interesting sports economics papers that consider externalities associated with sport. These often relate to the impact of sporting events on crime, domestic violence or pollution. Typically, they consider negative externalities, which economists usually agree outnumber positive ones. Another interesting contribution appeared online in The Journal of Human Resources last week. Hollingsworth et al. (working paper version here and published paywalled version here) consider how lead exposure impacts learning in elementary school by taking advantage of the February 2007 move in NASCAR racing to switch from leaded to unleaded fuel.
The authors show that “exposure to lead emissions has economically significant effects for elementary students living near emission sources” and “that exposure to airborne lead correlates with reduced standardized test performance across the student achievement distribution”. In short, children going to school near race tracks after the switch started to do better.
A couple of things struck me. First, why it took so long to switch fuel type given the known adverse affects of lead (there may well be a valid reason). Second, NASCAR races appear to be once off or spot events – can this effect be solely down to these few occasions? I wonder were there wider environmental changes going on in these locations related to fuel use. If the effect is solely down to these few events, of course, that is worrying for individuals living closer to motorways or maybe airports that are more frequently used. Very interesting contribution from the authors and another paper to add to the wider sports externalities literature.