Workers in Chinese textile factories are exposed to high levels of air pollution. At one facility, levels of particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) averaged 85 micrograms per cubic meter, or roughly seven times the safe limit set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. An increase in PM2.5 by ten micrograms per cubic meter sustained over 25 days reduces daily output by one per cent, harming firms and workers.
High levels of particles are visible and affect an individual’s well-being in a multitude of ways. Besides entering via the lungs and into the bloodstream, there could also be a psychological element. Working in a highly polluted setting for long periods of time affects mood or the disposition to work.
China’s polluted skies have been a problem for years now, with the country’s mean annual PM2.5 exposure spiking from 48 micrograms per cubic meter in 1990 to 56 in 2016. Laborers in China can be working under far worse daily conditions while maintaining levels of productivity that look comparable to clean air days.