Causal inference and machine learning approaches for evaluation of the health impacts of large-scale air quality regulations
We develop a causal inference approach to estimate the number of adverse health events prevented by large-scale air quality regulations via changes in exposure to multiple pollutants. This approach is motivated by regulations that impact pollution levels in all areas within their purview. We introduce a causal estimand called the Total Events Avoided (TEA) by the regulation, defined as the difference in the expected number of health events under the no-regulation pollution exposures and the observed number of health events under the with-regulation pollution exposures. We propose a matching method and a machine learning method that leverage high-resolution, population-level pollution and health data to estimate the TEA. Our approach improves upon traditional methods for regulation health impact analyses by clarifying the causal identifying assumptions, utilizing population-level data, minimizing parametric assumptions, and considering the impacts of multiple pollutants simultaneously. To reduce model-dependence, the TEA estimate captures health impacts only for units in the data whose anticipated no-regulation features are within the support of the observed with-regulation data, thereby providing a conservative but data-driven assessment to complement traditional parametric approaches. We apply these methods to investigate the health impacts of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments in the US Medicare population.