A new study suggests that air pollution may be behind thousands of preterm births every year, leading to crushing economic burdens for the nation.
Researchers estimate that in 2010, medical costs related to the issue amounted $760 million, while associated losses in productivity nationwide cost the U.S. $4 billion more.
The study which was published Mar. 29 in Environmental Health Perspectives is consistent with past research that had underlined the social and economic costs air pollution has on countries across the world.
The recent research analyzed the impact of fine particulate matter on U.S. people’s health. These are microscopic particles that are usually released by exhaust pipes, plants, and other industrial settings.
Particulate matter exposure had been linked to a plethora of health conditions by previous studies including heart disease, stroke, and early deaths. But growing evidence suggests that this type of air pollution may have long-term consequences on pregnant moms and their babies.
Leonardo Trasande, lead author of the latest study and researcher at the New York University’s School of Medicine, explained that particulate matter could enter mothers’ systems and trigger an inflammation of the placenta which can cause a preterm birth.
Preterm births are dangerous especially for newborns because they are often associated with a higher risk of infant death, feeding and breathing problems, higher risk of permanent cognitive impairment, and risk of developing other conditions.
Yet, the economic burdens premature births represent for the U.S. were not fully understood until now. Trasande said that his team decided to assess the annual economic costs of premature deaths linked to particulate matter pollution.
The research team based their findings on pollution data from the Environmental Protection Agency and premature birth data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
They made calculations for the year 2010, and found that 3 percent of all premature births, or about 16,000 births, were directly caused by air pollution. Next the team estimated the economic costs of air-pollution-associated preterm births.
They learned that health care costs came to nearly $760 million that year. But after they assessed the lost productivity of preemies with developmental problems, researchers found that the issues cost the U.S. a whopping $4 billion every year.
Study authors acknowledged that these estimates are national, while in some states the situation could be even worse. The team found that the highest incidence of premature births occurs in major cities, peaking in areas like New York City, Southern California and the Southeast, Chicago, southeastern parts of Pennsylvania, and Ohio River Valley.
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