Premature Births Linked To Air Pollution Cost More Than $4 Billion A Year

(Reuters Health) – U.S. premature births linked to air pollution cost more than $4 billion a year in medical care and lost economic opportunity, a new analysis estimates.

Almost 16,000 babies arrive early each year due at least in part to air pollution, according to researchers who analyzed air quality data and birth records.

Annual costs associated with these preemies include nearly $3.6 billion (about 3.2 billion euros) in lost wages and productivity due to physical and mental deficits tied to the early arrivals as well as $760 million (about 678 million euros) for extended hospitalizations and long-term use of medications, researchers calculated.

Air pollution-associated preterm birth contributes direct medical costs in the first few years of life due to associated conditions, such as in the newborn intensive care unit, as well as lost economic productivity due to developmental disabilities and lost cognitive potential,” lead study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an environmental health researcher at New York University School of Medicine in New York City, said by email.

Pregnancy normally lasts about 40 weeks, and babies born after 37 weeks are considered full term.

In the weeks immediately after birth, premature infants often have difficulty breathing and digesting food. They can also encounter longer-term challenges such as impaired vision, hearing, and cognitive skills as well as social and behavioral problems.

The U.S. preterm birth rate declined to 11.4 percent in 2013 from a peak of 12.8 percent in 2006 but remains far higher than in other developed countries, Trasande and colleagues report in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Approximately 3 percent of preterm births in the U.S. can be attributed to air pollution, the researchers conclude, based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Institute of Medicine.

Air pollution may contribute to the problem, because a buildup of toxic —> Read More