- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

There is an ecological aspect to the hospital delivery room: Air pollution is now linked to premature births in the U.S., causing over 3 percent of these distressing events — or about 16,000 each year.

The annual economic cost of this trend has reached $4.33 billion, this according to a new report published Tuesday by the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. The researchers say the costs include money spent on prolonged hospital stays and long-term use of medications for the infant, as well as lost economic productivity for the mother.

The report also found that the number of premature births linked to air pollution was highest in urban counties, primarily in Southern California and the Eastern U.S., with peak numbers in the Ohio River Valley. Air pollution, the research says, introduces toxic chemicals to the mother - which in turn leads to a cascade of ill effects: immune system stress, a weakened placenta, preterm birth and a host of potential mental and physical disabilities for the baby.

“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 Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a professor at the medical center who led the research. “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.”

Dr. Trasande plans to share the findings with policymakers. He also says the number of premature births in the U.S. remains well above those of other developed countries. The report, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, is the first to trace the frequency and cost of premature births related to air pollution.

The researchers now plan to  figure out which outdoor air pollutants are the worst offenders, and whether any stages of pregnancy are more susceptible to their negative effects.

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