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Evaluation of the Health Impacts of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments Using Causal Inference and Machine Learning

posted on 16.09.2020 by Rachel C. Nethery, Fabrizia Mealli, Jason D. Sacks, Francesca Dominici

We develop a causal inference approach to estimate the number of adverse health events that were prevented due to changes in exposure to multiple pollutants attributable to a large-scale air quality intervention/regulation, with a focus on the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA). We introduce a causal estimand called the total events avoided (TEA) by the regulation, defined as the difference in the number of health events expected under the no-regulation pollution exposures and the number observed with-regulation. We propose matching and machine learning methods that leverage population-level pollution and health data to estimate the TEA. Our approach improves upon traditional methods for regulation health impact analyses by formalizing causal identifying assumptions, using population-level data, minimizing parametric assumptions, and collectively analyzing multiple pollutants. To reduce model-dependence, our approach estimates cumulative health impacts in the subset of regions with projected no-regulation features lying within the support of the observed with-regulation data, thereby providing a conservative but data-driven assessment to complement traditional parametric approaches. We analyze the health impacts of the CAAA in the U.S. Medicare population in the year 2000, and our estimates suggest that large numbers of cardiovascular and dementia-related hospitalizations were avoided due to CAAA-attributable changes in pollution exposure. Supplementary materials for this article, including a standardized description of the materials available for reproducing the work, are available as an online supplement.


The authors gratefully acknowledge NIH funding: 5T32ES007142-35, R01ES024332, R01ES026217, P50MD010428, DP2MD012722, R01ES028033, R01GM111339, R01HD092580, R01AG060232-01A1, and R01MD012769; HEI grant 4953-RFA14-3/16-4; and EPA grant 83587201-0.