- Researchers from Leigh University say emissions from coal-fired power plants can impact pregnant women 20 to 30 miles away from the source, leading to increased incidence of low birth weights.
- The paper, "The Impact of Prenatal Exposure to Power Plant Emissions on Birth Weight," is the first scholarly look at the prenatal effects of coal emissions. It examines the impacts of pollution on New Jersey mothers in four counties from a Pennsylvania power plant located upwind.
- Researchers found a 6.5% increase in low birth weights and a 17.12% increase in very low birth weights among mothers exposed to the pollution. By taking into account infant health impacts, the research aims to broaden the scope of cross-border pollution impact analysis done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
By examining weather data, hospital records and emissions information from a Pennsylvania power plant, Lehigh University researchers concluded coal plant emissions can have a significant impact on nearby pregnancies.
Researchers say their results examine live single births from 1990 to 2006, finding a 6.5% increase in low birth weights and a 17.12% increase in very low birth weights compared to mothers not exposed to coal plant pollution.
Researchers said they saw effects up to 30 miles from the Portland Generating in Pennsylvania, which has not burned coal since 2013, according to owner NRG. They attributed the low birth weights to sulfur dioxide pollution, which can cause "intrauterine oxidative stress."
NJ.com reports the pollution impacts were seen in Morris, Hunterdon, Warren and Sussex counties in New Jersey. Researchers told the outlet the results likely underestimated the harms of coal emissions, as it studied populations more affluent than the country as a whole.
"Our study is aimed at broadening the scope of cross-border pollution impact analysis by taking into account adverse infant health effects of upwind polluters, which can impose disproportionate burdens of health risks on downwind states due to air pollutants transported by wind," researchers said in the study's abstract.
In an interview, researchers said their findings show proper regulation of power plant emissions "requires comprehensive cost-benefit analyses."
"However," they told the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, "potential improvement on fetal health has not yet been included in the scope of public health benefits from such regulation."
Power plant emissions are predominantly regulated on a state-by-state basis, but the authors say "this regulatory structure can be ineffective in the case of cross-border emissions."
The EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule was originally proposed in 2011 by the Obama administration to help address the interstate transport of ozone and other pollutants typically covered by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards within individual states.
The EPA finalized stricter cross-state rules in Sept. 2016, though it remains unclear whether the Trump administration will attempt to alter them. In his confirmation hearing, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt acknowledged the agency's responsibility to regulate harmful pollution, but he sued the federal government over the cross-state rules in his previous role as Oklahoma attorney general.