Closing Fossil Fuel Plants Boosts Fertility, Prevents Preterm Births

Closing Fossil Fuel Plants Boosts Fertility, Prevents Preterm Births
Posted on

Two studies shine light on the importance of pursing clean energy, and offer a bit of good news. The studies found that closing coal and oil plants may lead to fewer premature births and boosted fertility in neighboring communities. Such a trend can be seen playing out in California. [1]

In fact, preterm deliveries fell 20- 25% in California following the shuttering of 8 power plants between 2001 and 2011, according to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley.

Lead study author Joan Casey, a postdoctoral fellow, said she and her colleagues “were excited to do a good news story in environmental health.”

She added:

“Most people look at air pollution and adverse health outcomes, but this is the flip side: We said, let’s look at what happens when we have this external shock that removes air pollution from a community and see if we can see any improvements in health.”

Natural Society

Study #1 – A Drop in Preterm Births Overall

Researchers compared preterm births and fertility rates in women at 2 points in the first study: 2 years before the plants closed, and 1 year later. The team also accounted for the women’s age, socioeconomic status, education level, and race.

From there, the team divided the neighboring areas into 3 rings that measured 3 miles wide. They analyzed state birth records to spot trends in premature births within each ring.

The ring closest to the plant saw the biggest improvement in premature births and fertility – within 3 miles.

Overall, preterm births – before 37 weeks of pregnancy – fell from 7% to less than 5%. Among black and Asian women, premature deliveries fell even further – from about 14% to just over 11%, according to the report.

Read: 1.7 Million Children Die From Environmental Pollution Each Year

The 20-25% decrease in preterm birth rates came as a bit of a surprise to Casey and her colleagues, but the finding fortified those of previous studies linking birth problems to air pollution around power plants, she said.

“It would be good to look at this relationship in other states and see if we can apply a similar rationale to retirement of power plants in other places.”

When the scientists compared their findings to an analysis of 8 power plants that were still in use, they found that preterm rates remained the same, further bolstering their conclusion.

The study was published May 22, 2018 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Natural Society
Location of California coal and oil power plants that were closed between 2001 and 2011 and that were used in the study on the effects of emissions from such power plants on premature births to mothers living near the plants. CREDIT: INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS. JOAN A. CASEY, ET AL.

Study #2 – Increase in Fertility Rates

The second study carried out by Casey and her colleagues focused on fertility. The analysis saw an increase in fertility rates among nearby populations after coal and oil power plants were shut down. [2]

For the research, the investigators analyzed 58,909 live births. Using adjusted models, they determined that annual fertility rates among women between the ages of 15 and 44 living within approximately 3 miles of the closed plants increased by 8 births per 1,000 women. Among women living within 3-6 miles of the shuttered facilities, fertility rates increased by 2 births.

Read: U.S. Fertility Rate Hits an All-Time Low

Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-author of the study, said:

“We believe that these papers have important implications for understanding the potential short-term community health benefits of climate and energy policy shifts and provide some very good news on that front.”

She went on to say:

“These studies indicate short-term beneficial impacts on preterm birth rates overall and particularly for women of color.”

You can view the full results of the study in the journal Environmental Health.

Natural Society


[1] HealthDay

[2] CBS News