Nav: Home

Living downwind of coal-fired power plant could increase risk of low birth weight

April 04, 2017

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has studied the effects of coal-fired power plant emissions on premature mortality, nonfatal heart attacks, hospital and emergency room visits, acute bronchitis, upper and lower respiratory symptoms, aggravated asthma, and lost work days or school absences.

A new study details the public health benefits of cutting such emissions on a previously unexplored area: fetal health.

The study -- led by Muzhe Yang , Associate Professor of Economics at Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA) -- is the first to explore the impacts of prenatal exposure to a uniquely identified large polluter. Drawing on evidence from a Pennsylvania power plant located upwind of New Jersey, the researchers studied live singleton births that occurred from 1990 to 2006 in the area downwind of the plant. Infants born to mothers living as far as 20 to 30 miles downwind from the power plant were 6.5% more likely to be born with a low birth weight (i.e., birth weight below 2,500 grams) and 17.12% more likely to be born with a very low birth weight (i.e., birth weight below 1,500 grams).

The study titled "The Impact of Prenatal Exposure to Power Plant Emissions on Birth Weight: Evidence from a Pennsylvania Power Plant Located Upwind of New Jersey" will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management and appeared online today. Co-authors include Shin-Yi Chou, Professor of Economics at Lehigh University; Rhea A. Bhatta, Data Analyst at the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; and, Cheng-I Hsieh, Associate Professor at the Department of Bioenvironmental Systems Engineering, National Taiwan University.

"Identifying this causal effect is not only necessary for proposing regulatory policies on plant emissions, but also essential for inferring the long-term health impacts of such policies," says Yang. "A robust association has been found in the literature between birth weight and outcomes during adulthood, such as health, educational attainment, and earnings."

In the United States, emissions crossing states' borders complicate the regulation of power plants. While each state has the statutory authority to regulate plants within its own boundaries, regulatory incentives between upwind and downwind states are not necessarily aligned. The results of this study illustrate the impact that transboundary power plant emissions that remain uncontrolled for years can have on public health in the absence of a proper regulatory structure.

The study is based on a unique empirical setting, in which a power plant located on the border between two states has polluted the downwind state for years with its pollution spillovers scientifically proven by the downwind state and also by the federal government. Specifically, two petitions filed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) with the EPA against a Pennsylvania power plant -- the Portland Generating Station (PGS)--show that sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from the plant have reached four New Jersey counties as far as 20 to 30 miles away. The EPA eventually ruled that the emissions from this power plant alone caused the violations of the SO2 national ambient air quality standards in the downwind state, New Jersey.

According to a 2007 report by the Environmental Integrity Project, the Portland Generating Station was ranked fifth among the top 50 "dirtiest" power plants by sulfur dioxide emission rate. The researchers say that the first of the two NJDEP's petitions shows that the 30,465 tons of sulfur dioxide emitted by the plant in 2009 was more than double the sulfur dioxide emissions from all power-generating facilities in New Jersey combined. "In addition to identifying the impacts of the emissions from this particular coal-fired power plant on fetal health, the usefulness of this study's identification strategy is its potential application to other studies examining the impact of upwind states' power plant emissions, which have been the target of a series of environmental regulations, such as the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule," adds Yang.

Lehigh University

Related Public Health Articles:

Public health guidelines aim to lower health risks of cannabis use
Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, released today with the endorsement of key medical and public health organizations, provide 10 science-based recommendations to enable cannabis users to reduce their health risks.
Study clusters health behavior groups to broaden public health interventions
A new study led by a University of Kansas researcher has used national health statistics and identified how to cluster seven health behavior groups based on smoking status, alcohol use, physical activity, physician visits and flu vaccination are associated with mortality.
Public health experts celebrate 30 years of CDC's prevention research solutions for communities with health disparities
It has been 30 years since CDC created the Prevention Research Centers (PRC) Program, currently a network of 26 academic institutions across the US dedicated to moving new discoveries into the communities that need them.
Public health experts support federally mandated smoke-free public housing
In response to a new federal rule mandating smoke-free policies in federally funded public housing authorities, three public health experts applaud the efforts of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to protect nonsmoking residents from the harmful effects of tobacco exposure.
The Lancet Public Health: UK soft drinks industry levy estimated to have significant health benefits, especially among children
The UK soft drinks industry levy, due to be introduced in April 2018, is estimated to have significant health benefits, especially among children, according to the first study to estimate its health impact, published in The Lancet Public Health.
Social sciences & health innovations: Making health public
The international conference 'Social Sciences & Health Innovations: Making Health Public' is the third event organized as a collaborative endeavor between Maastricht University, the Netherlands, and Tomsk State University, the Russian Federation, with participation from Siberian State Medical University (the Russian Federation).
Columbia Mailman School Awards Public Health Prize to NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T.
Dr. Mary T. Bassett, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, was awarded the Frank A.
Poor health literacy a public health issue
America's poor record on health literacy is a public health issue, but one that can be fixed -- not by logging onto the internet but by increased interaction with your fellow human beings, a Michigan State University researcher argues.
Despite health law's bow to prevention, US public health funding is dropping: AJPH study
Although the language of the Affordable Care Act emphasizes disease prevention -- for example, mandating insurance coverage of clinical preventive services such as mammograms -- funding for public health programs to prevent disease have actually been declining in recent years.
'Chemsex' needs to become a public health priority
Chemsex -- sex under the influence of illegal drugs -- needs to become a public health priority, argue experts in The BMJ this week.

Related Public Health Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".