Preterm births tied to air pollution in the U.S. come with a hefty price tag: more than $4 billion in economic costs each year. That’s according to a new report published Tuesday in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Researchers from various medical specialty divisions at New York University used data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Institute of Medicine to calculate air pollution exposure and the number of premature births in each county in the country. They found that 3.32 percent of 15,808 preterm births recorded in 2010 could be linked to particulate matter – a type of air pollutant.
The $4.33 billion price tag associated with these births includes nearly $3.6 billion in lost wages and productivity due to physical and mental deficits, plus $760 million for extended hospitalizations and long-term medication use.
“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,” study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, associate professor in the departments of pediatrics, population health and environmental medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, told Reuters Health.
In 2014, the CDC reported that about 1 in 10 infants born in the U.S. is premature. Being born too early can lead to breathing problems, feeding difficulties, cerebral palsy, developmental delay, vision problems and hearing impairment, according to the CDC. Air pollution, meanwhile, carries myriad health risks, and experts say there’s no safe level of exposure to particulate matter – which is made up of dust, dirt, soot, smoke and droplets of liquid.
In addition to problems with cardiovascular and respiratory health, air pollution can cause eye, lung and throat irritation, plus contribute to lung cancer, asthma and other disorders. It’s been linked to diabetes, obesity, impaired cognitive development, anxiety, depression and suicide.