Studies: Shuttering coal and oil power plants boosts fertility, babies’ health

Closing coal- and oil-fired power plants cuts air pollution in nearby communities, and two new studies also show that shuttering plants boosts fertility rates and reduces the number of preterm births.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, looked at fertility rates and the prevalence of preterm births before and after eight power plants closed from 2001 to 2011 in California, according to a news release on the studies. Findings revealed that the preterm births, defined as those that occur before 37 weeks of pregnancy, accounted for 7 percent of all births before plants closed. The rate dropped to 5.1 percent in the year afterward among populations in neighboring areas. 

“Subgroup analyses indicated a potentially larger association among non-Hispanic Black and Asian mothers compared to non-Hispanic White and Hispanic mothers and no differences in educational attainment,” according to an abstract of one study, published this month in the American Journal of Epidemiology. 

Preterm birth is the leading cause of death among newborns, according to the World Health Organization. Preterm babies also face heightened risk of disability and illness.

The second study, which focused on fertility, concluded that fertility rates among nearby populations appeared to rise after coal and oil power plants were closed. The study, published in Environmental Health, analysed 58,909 live births. It says researchers estimated, using adjusted models, that annual fertility rates among women between the ages of 15 and 44 who lived within about three miles of the shuttered power plants increased by eight births per 1,000 women. They increased by two births among those within about 3 to 6 miles of power plants, according to the study. 

“We believe that these papers have important implications for understanding the potential short-term community health benefits of climate and energy policy shifts and provide some very good news on that front,” co-author Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said in the news release. 

“These studies indicate short-term beneficial impacts on preterm birth rates overall and particularly for women of color,” she added.  

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