The adverse health impacts of air pollution have been widely documented, yet there is little empirical evidence on the externalities of the brick manufacturing industry industry. We conducted a field study in Bangladesh to quantify the contribution of brick kilns to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and respiratory health. We exploit variation in the timing of brick production, seasonal wind direction, and household proximity to kilns to isolate the effects of brick manufacturing from other sources of air pollution. Our findings suggest that existing regulations, which require that kilns be at least 1–2 km from residential areas, schools, and health facilities, are inadequate to protect nearby communities from the substantial health burden brick manufacturing imposes.
Monitoring compliance with environmental regulations is a global challenge. It is particularly difficult for governments in low-income countries, where informal industry is responsible for a large amount of pollution, because the governments lack the ability to locate and monitor large numbers of dispersed polluters. This study demonstrates an accurate, scalable machine learning approach for identifying brick kilns, a highly polluting informal industry in Bangladesh, in satellite imagery.Our data reveal widespread violations of the national regulations governing brick manufacturing, which has implications for the health and well-being of the country. Our approach offers a low-cost, replicable method for regulatory agencies to generate information on key pollution sources.