Air pollution can have many serious effects on health, starting from the very first stages of life. Research has shown that air pollution can increase a mother's risk of premature birth, medically known as 'preterm birth' for infants born before 37 weeks of gestation.
Tracking California analyzed data to better understand the costs of preterm birth due to preventable particulate matter (PM) pollution. Our results provide better information on the role that preventable PM plays in preterm birth risks and on its economic impact in California.
This project was completed as part of Tracking California's ongoing work to characterize and investigate environmental and health issues of concern in California. Multiple complex factors are associated with premature birth, including outdoor air pollution. Reducing exposure to air pollution is an important strategy for preventing premature birth. When state and local agencies craft policies and programs to reduce air pollution, the health and economic benefits of preventing premature birth should be considered.
Using methods from Trasande et al. (2016), we estimate the proportion of preterm birth attributable to PM 2.5 in each California county. A base odds ratio for preterm birth of 1.15 per 10- ug/m3 increase in PM 2.5 concentration was used following the methods of Trasande et al. and the meta-analysis by Sapkota et al. (2012). The base odds ratio and PM 2.5 monitor data from the California Air Resources Board were used to calculate the proportion of preterm births attributable to preventable air hazards in excess of a PM 2.5 reference level of 8.8 ug/m3. We then calculated the direct and indirect costs associated with each case of preterm birth to estimate the annual human and economic burden of PM2.5-attributable preterm birth in California.
Reducing human-made PM2.5 pollution in California could prevent an estimated 3,062 premature births each year and would save $1.1 billion dollars annually in direct and lifetime costs. Annual costs from medical care, therapeutic services, and special education are an estimated $170 million; and lifetime costs from lost economic productivity due to reduced cognitive function total $980 million.
This research was conducted by Tracking California, a program of the Public Health Institute. This work was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number 5U38EH000953 from the CDC. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the program and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC.