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Evolution of households’ responses to the groundwater arsenic crisis in Bangladesh: information on environmental health risks can have increasing behavioral impact over time

Soumya Balasubramanya, Alexander Pfaff, Lori Bennear, Alessandro Tarozzi, Kazi Matin Ahmed, Amy Schoenfeld, Alexander van Geen
Environment and Development Economics 19: 631–647

PDF link iconA national campaign of well testing through 2003 enabled households in rural Bangladesh to switch, at least for drinking water, from high-arsenic wells to neighboring lower arsenic wells. We study the well-switching dynamics over time by re-interviewing, in 2008, a randomly selected subset of households in the Araihazar region who had been interviewed in 2005. Contrary to concerns that the impact of arsenic information on switching behavior would erode over time, we find that not only was 2003–2005 switching highly persistent but also new switching by 2008 doubled the share of households at unsafe wells who had switched. The passage of time also had a cost: 22 per cent of households did not recall test results by 2008. The loss of arsenic knowledge led to staying at unsafe wells and switching from safe wells. Our results support ongoing well testing for arsenic to reinforce this beneficial information.

 

Impact of a randomized controlled trial in arsenic risk communication on household water-source choices in Bangladesh

Lori Bennear, Alessandro Tarozzi, Alexander Pfaff, Soumya Balasubramanya, Kazi Matin Ahmed, Alexander van Geen
Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 65 (2013) 225–240

PDF link iconWe conducted a randomized controlled trial in rural Bangladesh to examine how household drinking-water choices were affected by two different messages about risk from naturally occurring groundwater arsenic. Households in both randomized treatment arms were informed about the arsenic level in their well and whether that level was above or below the Bangladesh standard for arsenic. Households in one group of villages were encouraged to seek water from wells below the national standard. Households in the second group of villages received additional information explaining that lower-arsenic well water is always safer and these households were encouraged to seek water from wells with lower levels of arsenic, irrespective of the national standard. A simple model of household drinking-water choice indicates that the effect of the emphasis message is theoretically ambiguous. Empirically, we find that the richer message had a negative, but insignificant, effect on well-switching rates, but the estimates are sufficiently precise that we can rule out large positive effects. The main policy implication of this finding is that a one-time oral message conveying richer information on arsenic risks, while inexpensive and easily scalable, is unlikely to be successful in reducing exposure relative to the status-quo policy.

 

Can Environmental Insurance Succeed Where Other Strategies Fail? The case of underground storage tanks.

Haitao Yin, Alexander Pfaff, Howard Kunreuther
Risk Analysis 2011 volume 31 number 1: 12-24 (doi 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2010.01479.x)

PDF link iconPrivate risk reduction will be socially efficient only when firms are liable for all the damage that they cause. We find that environmental insurance can achieve social efficiency even when two traditional policy instruments—ex post fines and risk management mandates with ex ante fines—do not. Inefficiency occurs with ex post fines, when small firms declare bankruptcy and escape their liabilities, limiting the incentives from this policy tool. Firms ignore mandates to implement efficient risk management because regulatory agencies do not have sufficient resources to monitor every firm. The evolution of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s and states’ underground storage tank programs suggests that mandating environmental insurance can address inefficiency due to small firms declaring bankruptcy. Comparing insurance mandates to risk management mandates, the burden on a regulator is lower if all it has to do is to confirm that the firm has insurance rather than that the firm has actually, and effectively, implemented required management practices. For underground storage tanks, we show that insurance lowered toxic releases.

 

Can information alone change behavior? Response to arsenic contamination of groundwater in Bangladesh

Malgosia Madajewicz, Alexander Pfaff, Alexander van Geen, Joseph Graziano, Iftikhar Hussein, Hasina Momotaj, Roksana Sylvia, Habibul Ahsan
Journal of Development Economics 84 (2007) 731–754

PDF link iconWe study how effectively information induces Bangladeshi households to avoid a health risk. The response to information is large and rapid; knowing that the household’s well water has an unsafe concentration of arsenic raises the probability that the household changes to another well within one year by 0.37. Households who change wells increase the time spent obtaining water fifteen-fold. We identify a causal effect of information, since incidence of arsenic is uncorrelated with household characteristics. Our door-to-door information campaign provides well-specific arsenic levels without which behavior does not change. Media communicate general information about arsenic less expensively and no less effectively.

 

Reduction in Urinary Arsenic Levels in Response to Arsenic Mitigation Efforts in Araihazar, Bangladesh

Yu Chen, Alexander van Geen, Joseph H. Graziano, Alexander Pfaff, Malgosia Madajewicz, Faruque Parvez, A.Z.M Iftehkar Hussain, Vesna Slavkovich, Tariqul Islam, Habibul Ahsan
Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 115, No. 6 (Jun., 2007), pp. 917-923

PDF link iconBACKGROUND: There is a need to identify and evaluate an effective mitigation program for arsenic exposure from drinking water in Bangladesh.   OBJECTIVE: We evaluated the effectiveness of a multifaceted mitigation program to reduce As exposure among 11,746 individuals in a prospective cohort study initiated in 2000 in Araihazar, Bangladesh, by interviewing participants and measuring changes in urinary As levels. METHODS: The interventions included  a) person-to-person reporting of well test results and health education; b) well labeling and village-level health education; and c) installations of fifty deep, low-As community wells in villages with the highest As exposure. RESULTS: Two years after these interventions, 58% of the 6,512 participants with unsafe wells (As >=50 micrograms/L) at baseline had responded by switching to other wells. Well labeling and village-level health education was positively related to switching to safe wells (As < 50 micrograms/L) among participants with unsafe wells [rate ratio(RR)= 1.84; 95% confidence interval(CI), 1.60-2.11] and inversely related to any well switching among those with safe wells (RR = 0.80; 95% CI, 0.66-0.98). The urinary As level in participants who switched to a well identified as safe (< 50 micrograms As/L) dropped from an average of 375 micrograms As/g creatinine to 200 micrograms As/g creatinine, a 46% reduction toward the average urinary As content of 136 micrograms As/g creatinine for participants that used safe wells throughout. Urinary As reduction was positively related to educational attainment, body mass index, never-smoking, absence of skin lesions, and time since switching (p for trend< 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: Our   study shows that testing of wells and informing households of the consequences of As exposure, combined with installation of deep community wells where most needed, can effectively address the continuing public health emergency from arsenic in drinking water in Bangladesh.

Ensuring Safe Drinking Water in Bangladesh

M.F. Ahmed, S. Ahuha, M. Alauddin, S.J. Hug, J.R. Lloyd, A. Pfaff, T. Pichler, C. Saltikov, M. Stute, A. van Geen
Science volume 314 (December 15, 2006): 1687-1688

PDF link iconExcessive levels of arsenic in drinking water is a vast health problem in Southeast Asia. Several viable approaches to mitigation could drastically reduce arsenic exposure, but they all require periodic testing.

 

UNICEF K.A.P. Survey Data Report

Malgosia Madajewicz, Alexander Pfaff
UNICEF Report (with Jan Willem Rosenboom, unofficial earlier draft attached here)

PDF link iconUNICEF Bangladesh, with assistance from a number of non-governmental agencies (NGOs), conducted surveys to assess the impact of arsenic contamination in Bangladesh. The surveys aimed to measure the knowledge levels, attitudes and behavioral patterns of respondents living in arsenic-affected areas. The first survey, referred to hereafter as the baseline survey, or baseline, was conducted between July and September of 2001. The subsequent survey, referred to as the follow-up survey, or follow-up, took place in March-May, 2002. In the period between surveys, UNICEF and other governmental and non-governmental agencies carried out dissemination programs to make people aware of the problems associated with arsenic contamination. The primary objective of this report is to ascertain whether these dissemination programs increased the level of arsenic-related awareness and knowledge. We would also like to find out whether varying levels of knowledge and attitude among the respondents appear to explain the variance in their stated willingness to take action or to spend money to prevent arsenic-related problems.

To Err on Humans is not Benign: incentives for adoption of medical error-reporting systems

Joshua Graff Zivin, Alexander Pfaff
Journal of Health Economics 23 (2004) 935–949

PDF link iconConcerns about frequent and harmful medical errors have led policy makers to advocate the creation of a system for medical error reporting. Health providers, fearing that reported information about errors would be used against them under the current medical malpractice system, have been reluctant to participate in such reporting systems.We propose a re-design of the malpractice system – one in which penalties are a function of the health provider’s reporting efforts – to overcome this incentive problem.We also consider some alternatives to this mechanism that address two important ways in which reporting effort may not be observable: hospitals may have interests distinct from individual physicians and may not be able to observe their reporting efforts, and a regulatory agency or a court may not be able to adequately observe reporting efforts by a provider.

Big Field, Small Potatoes: an empirical assessment of EPA’s Self-Audit Policy

Alexander Pfaff, Chris William Sanchirico
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (2004) volume 23 number 3: 415–432

PDF link iconEnvironmental self-auditing is said to deserve and require encouragement. Although firms can audit themselves more cheaply and effectively than regulators, they are deterred for fear that information they uncover will be used against them. To reduce this disincentive, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Audit Policy lowers punitive fines when firms promptly disclose and correct self-discovered violations. While some contend that the Audit Policy is inadequate, EPA touts its success based on the policy’s track record. Our examination of that track record leads us to question EPA’s claim. Comparing the violations in these cases with those detected by standard EPA enforcement suggests that the typical self-audited violation is relatively minor. Cases arising under the Policy are more likely to concern reporting violations and less likely to concern emissions. The relative insignificance of self-audited violations raises a number of policy questions, including whether the Audit Policy should be revised to play a larger role in enforcement.

 

Environmental Self-Auditing: setting the proper incentives for discovery and correction of environmental harm

Alexander Pfaff, Chris William Sanchirico
Journal of Law, Economics & Organization (2000) volume 16 number 1: 189-208.

PDF link iconMany firms conduct “environmental audits” to test compliance with a complex array of environmental regulations. Commentators suggest, however, that self-auditing is not as common as it should be, because firms fear that what they find will be used against them. This article analyzes self-auditing as a two-tiered incentive problem involving incentives both to test for and to effect compliance. After demonstrating the inadequacy of conventional remedies, we show that incentives can be properly aligned by conditioning fines on firms’ investigative effort. In practice, however, the regulator may not be able to observe such effort. Accordingly, we propose and evaluate the use of three observable proxies for self-investigation: the manner in which the regulator detected the violation; the firm’s own disclosure of violations; and the firm’s observed corrective actions. Each method has its own efficiency benefits and informational requirements, and each is distinct from EPA’s current audit policy.