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Babies harmed by air pollution

Air pollution in the United States may be causing thousands of premature births each year and costing the nation billions of dollars, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The researchers concluded that just over three per cent, close to 16,000, of all the preterm births in 2010 could be attributed to fine particulate matter (PM).

It is believed that exposure to air pollution can cause inflammation of the placenta during pregnancy, which can ultimately lead to an early delivery. Preterm birth is associated with a variety of medical problems including an increased risk of infant mortality, breathing and feeding difficulties, cerebral palsy, increased risk of developing other diseases and developmental delays that can lead to cognitive impairment throughout life.

The direct medical costs were estimated at about US$ 760 million in 2010. Far weightier, though, were the costs associated with lost economic productivity, and altogether the medical costs and lost economic potential added up to just over US$ 5 billion.

Source: Washington Post, 29 March 2016

The study: “Particulate Matter Exposure and Preterm Birth: Estimates of U.S. Attributable Burden and Economic Costs”, by Leonardo Trasande, Patrick Malecha, and Teresa M. Attina.

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