Researchers estimate that preterm births caused by air pollution cost more than $4 billion per year to the United States when considering health care cost and economic opportunity. Findings were published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Health.

The American Lung Association says that 138.5 million Americans live where pollution levels are dangerous to breathe. As a consequence, air pollution may have an impact in almost 16,000 preterm births (PTB) per year, according to researchers from the New York University School of Medicine in New York City.

A new study estimates that preterm birth associated with air pollution cost $4 billion per year to the United States. Credit:

Costs include $3.6 billion in lost wages and lost productivity, linked to physical and mental deficit in some people who are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and $760 million in extended hospitalization and medications, explains Reuters Health.

The study says that air pollution-associated preterm birth has a significant impact on medical costs in the first few years of life of newborns, including intensive care. On the other hand, economic opportunity is altered due to associated conditions, said lead study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, to Reuters.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that such economic estimates are reported, and suggest that considerable health and economic benefits can be gained through reductions in outdoor air pollution exposure in pregnancy,” said researchers in a report published Tuesday.

California and Texas among the states with more PTB-associated to air pollution

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that preterm birth affected 1 out of 10 infants born in the U.S. in 2014, being the main contributor to infant death, especially among babies who are born before 32 weeks of pregnancy. PTB also causes long-term neurological disabilities in children.

Researchers explain that preterm birth rates in the country have been decreasing in the last years, nonetheless, numbers are still high when considering records from other developed countries. 3 percent of all PTB may be caused by air pollution, they added, after analyzing data from the CDC, the Environmental Protection Agency and the institute of medicine.

It appears than four out of 10 people (138.5 million) live in counties where air pollution can be dangerous to health, causing asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, said the American Lung Association in a report.

The states that are majorly affected by pollution-associated preterm birth are California and Texas, with $589 and $342 million lost in economic productivity, respectively. Both states have an estimated of 3,400 preterm births attributed to air pollution each year, which generates the investment of more than $160 million in medical care.

On the other hand, states such as Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington are not relatively impacted by pollution-associated preterm birth, due to its controlled levels of air pollution.

“Our estimates suggest that PM (particle pollution) may contribute substantially to burden and costs of PTB in the US. Because of the widespread exposure to PM, considerable health and economic benefits could be achieved through regulatory interventions that reduce such exposure in pregnancy,” concluded the study.

Source: Environmental Health Perspectives