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Your Environment. Your Health.

Closing Coal, Oil Plants Linked to Fewer Preterm Births

Rachel Morello-Frosch, Ph.D.
University of California, Berkeley
K99ES027023, P01ES022841, R01ES027051

Shutting down coal- and oil-fired power plants lowered the rate of preterm births in neighboring communities, according to new research by NIEHS grantees. The researchers examined preterm births before and after eight power plants in California closed between 2001 and 2011.

The researchers compared preterm birth rates one year after the closure of each power plant with the rates during a year-long period before plant closure. Dividing the region surrounding each power plant into rings that represented 0-5 kilometers (km), 5-10 km, and 10-20 km from the plant, they examined state birth records to determine the rate of preterm births in each ring. Those living in the third ring, which was 10-20 km from the plant, were used as a control population.

The rate of preterm births for residents living in the closest ring dropped from 7.0 percent during the year before the plant closed to 5.1 percent in the year after shutdown. Rates for non-Hispanic African-American and Asian women in the closest ring dropped even more — from 14.4 to 11.3 percent. Those living 5-10 km away from the power plant showed less improvement.

The researchers also considered effects of wind on preterm birth rates. Although downwind areas seemed to show greater improvements, the differences were not statistically significant. They replicated their analyses around eight power plants that had not closed and found no differences in preterm births over the same period, which supported the results of their main analyses.

Citation: Casey JA, Karasek D, Ogburn EL, Goin DE, Dang K, Braveman PA, Morello-Frosch R. 2018. Retirements of coal and oil power plants in California: association with reduced preterm birth among populations nearby. Am J Epidemiol 187(8):1586-1594.

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