Externalities of Urbanization and Industrialization: Air Pollution & Higher Mortality Rates

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Industrialization and urbanization have been a major source of air pollution in the United States and many other countries around the world. Mainly, companies that build factories around highly urbanized areas contribute to a worse quality of air. Also, combustion engines release chemicals into the air that is extremely detrimental to the overall air quality. While most people enjoy having factory jobs and utilizing automobiles, these luxuries and technologies also have negative consequences or externalities. Many forms of energy also contribute to this: “Anthropogenic processes include combustion from car engines (both diesel and petrol); solid-fuel (coal, lignite, and biomass) combustion in households; industrial activities…” (Dockery, Pope, & Spengler, 1993, p. 13). As people drive cars and factories continue to produce products, the air quality gets continually worse and there are real side effects that people have to deal with. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the driving force behind reducing the amount of air quality that exists, thereby being a supporter of reversing climate change

In the course of driving cars and using fossil fuels, air quality increases mortality rates. For instance, when cars and factories release black some into the air, people are more susceptible to diseases like lung cancer and cardiovascular disorders. In Western Europe alone, black smoke is responsible for increasing the mortality rate by over 3% (Dockery et al., 1993). Given that more vehicles are on the road than in 1993, we can expect this number to be even higher as a result of more cars. Research is done by Pope, Burnett, and Thun (2002) also found that “statistically significant and relatively consistent mortality associations existed for all measures of fine particulate exposure” (p. 1137). Together, these negative side effects continue to affect people’s quality of life including the development of certain types of lung cancers. While there are some views that reflect that this is not a problem, ultimately the scientific evidence is clear in showing that reduced air quality is has a causal relationship with a combustion engine and factory emission-related activities. 

Despite this externality, the EPA has set regulations in order to enforce higher levels of adherence towards minimizing the problem. The EPA is a regulatory agency under the federal government that is responsible for dealing with environmental matters. For issues out of the scope of the EPA, the organization works with other entities (EPA, 2010). Also, a big part of the EPA is to create awareness about the issue among the public. Consequently, people can make better daily choices in terms of travel and waste so that overall air pollution is reduced. Finally, the EPA has established an “Air Quality Management (AQM)” program to deal with companies and monitor their overall carbon footprint on the nation and their local communities (EPA, 2010). These initiatives work together in order to reduce the overall amount of air pollution that is produced. 

The research wholly suggests that air pollution is a real, tangible externality of cars and factories. Scientific evidence strongly shows that it is a serious problem and almost everyone is to blame in some way, shape or form. The mortality rates are a clear indication of the problem at hand. Finally, the solution is dealt with almost purely through legislation. Because the EPA has the authority to make calls and assert authority over states and organizations, they make the appropriate changes as necessary to our laws in order to reduce air pollution. These initiatives work together in order to reduce the mortality rate that is heavily associated with air pollution caused by cars and factories. Finally, companies play an important role in complying with these laws or being faced with fines.


Dockery, D., Pope, A., & Spengler, J. (1993). An association between air pollution and mortality in six U.S. cities. The New England Journal of Medicine, 329(24), 1753-1759.

EPA. (2010, January 1). Sources of pollutants in the ambient air. US Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/apti/course422/ap3a.html

Pope, A., Burnett, R., & Thun, M. (2002). Lung cancer, cardiopulmonary mortality, and long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution. Journal of the American Medical Association, 287(9), 1132-1141.