Premature Birth Rates Drop in California After Coal and Oil Plants Shut Down

Shutting down power plants that burn fossil fuels can almost immediately reduce the risk of premature birth in pregnant women living nearby, according to research published Tuesday.

Researchers scrutinized records of more than 57,000 births by mothers who lived close to eight coal- and oil-fired plants across California in the year before the facilities were shut down, and in the year after, when the air was cleaner.

The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that the rate of premature births dropped from 7 to 5.1 percent after the plants were shuttered, between 2001 and 2011. The most significant declines came among African American and Asian women. Preterm birth can be associated with lifelong health complications.

The results add fresh evidence to a robust body of research on the harmful effects of exposure to air pollution, especially in young children—even before they’re born.

“The ah-ha moment was probably just seeing what a large, estimated effect size we got,” said lead author Joan Casey, who is a post-doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. “We were pretty shocked by it—to the point that we did many, many additional analyses to try to make it go away, and didn’t succeed.” 05-22-18

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