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Does Hazardous Waste Matter? Evidence from the Housing Market and the Superfund Program

Michael Greenstone and Justin Gallagher

The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 123, No. 3, pp. 951-1003, August 2008

Michael Greenstone and Justin Gallagher, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 123, No. 3, pp. 951-1003, August 2008

This paper uses the housing market to develop estimates of the local welfare impacts of Superfund-sponsored cleanups of hazardous waste sites. We show that if consumers value the cleanups, then the hedonic model predicts that they will lead to increases in local housing prices and new home construction, as well as the migration of individuals that place a high value on environmental quality to the areas near the improved sites. We compare housing market outcomes in the areas surrounding the first 400 hazardous waste sites chosen for Superfund cleanups to the areas surrounding the 290 sites that narrowly missed qualifying for these cleanups.We find that Superfund cleanups are associated with economically small and statistically insignificant changes in residential property values, property rental rates, housing supply, total population, and types of individuals living near the sites. These findings are robust to a series of specification checks, including the application of a regression discontinuity design based on knowledge of the selection rule. Overall, the preferred estimates suggest that the local benefits of Superfund cleanups are small and appear to be substantially lower than the $43 million mean cost of Superfund cleanups.

(Also published as CEEPR WP 2006-020)

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