The annual economic cost of the nearly 16,000 premature births linked to air pollution in the United States has reached $4.33 billion, according to a report by scientists at NYU Langone Medical Center. The sum includes $760 million spent on prolonged hospital stays and long-term use of medications, as well as $3.57 billion in lost economic productivity due to physical and mental disabilities associated with preterm birth.
The new analysis, to be published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives online March 29, is the first to examine the costs of premature births due to air pollution in the U.S., according to the study’s authors. Researchers say air pollution is known to increase toxic chemicals in the blood and cause immune system stress, which can weaken the placenta surrounding the fetus and lead to preterm birth.
“Air pollution comes with a tremendous cost, not only in terms of human life, but also in terms of the associated economic burden to society,” says lead study investigator Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, a professor at NYU Langone. “It is also important to note that this burden is preventable, and can be reduced by limiting emissions from automobiles and coal-fired power plants.”