Researchers from the New York University looked into the the health and economic implications that may be attributed to exposure to fine particulate matter. Particulate matter are tiny particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers. This type of pollution is released by factories, traffic and other industrial operations.
Past studies on particulate matter exposure linked it to various health conditions, including cardiovascular and respiratory problems, and even premature deaths. The new study linked exposure to fine particulate matter with premature births.
The researchers analyzed air pollution data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the preterm birth data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Using existing data on how exposure to fine particulate matter affects the preterm birth risks, they estimated how many preemies' births were caused by exposure to air pollution in 2010.
They found that 3.32 percent, or 15,808 of all premature births in 2010 could be linked to particulate matter exposure.
To come up with the estimated yearly medical costs, the researchers used a report from the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine. In one year, the United States spent approximately $760 million for the direct medical costs of premature births.
More than the amount spent on medical care is the cost of the loss of economic productivity, as those born prematurely may have developmental or cognitive disabilities that limit their ability to work.
To look at the cost of lost economic productivity, the team turned to past studies that linked premature births and decreases in IQ, as well as studies on the relationship between IQ loss and lost economic productivity.
They estimated that because of reduced productivity, the United States lost $3.57 billion in 2010. In total, air pollution-related premature births cost the country $4.3 million.
"The implications also spread beyond the United States to other parts of the globe where air pollution is likely to be more of a substantial problem," said study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics at the New York University's School of Medicine.
The study was published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal. The findings add to the growing body of literature that highlights the health and economic consequences of air pollution worldwide.
"This is an opportunity for women and families to advocate for efforts to prevent environmental contributors that are really under-recognized," added Trasande.
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