A new study published in the journal of Environmental Health Perspectives suggests that air pollution in the United States may be causing thousands of premature births per year. The reasons why are not entirely understood but scientists suspect that pollution can cause inflammation of the placenta during pregnancy.
Premature birth is associated with a number of severe health effects, including breathing and feeding difficulties, cerebral palsy, developmental delays, an increased risk of developing other diseases, and even an increased risk of infant mortality.
Because the cost of improving air quality is sometimes rationalized as a reason for not proactively addressing pollution, the new study examines the economic toll of premature births and the subsequent health effects. A report from the Institute of Medicine concludes that in 2010, direct medical costs totaled $760 million. Even higher were the costs associated with lost productivity. The effects were more severe in urban areas such as the Ohio River Valley, Chicago, and New York City.
The study highlights the importance of local health departments educating their communities on the importance of minding air quality alerts and lessening their own contributions to air pollution. It also underscores the importance of legislation such as the Clean Power Plan and partnerships like the Paris Agreement.