New Study Finds Drop in Preterm Births After Closing Coal, Oil Power Plants

Coal and oil power plant retirements in California associated with reduced preterm birth among populations nearby



Shutting coal- and oil-fired power plants lowers the rate of preterm births in neighboring communities and improves fertility, according to a new University of California study.

The research, which was supported through the California Preterm Birth Initative's Research Allocation Program (RAP), compared preterm births and fertility before and after eight power plants in California closed between 2001 and 2011, including San Francisco’s Hunters Point plant in 2006.

Overall, the percentage of preterm births – babies born before 37 weeks of gestation – dropped from 7 percent in a year-long period before plant closure to 5.1 percent for the year after shutdown. Rates for non-Hispanic African-American and Asian women dropped even more: from 14.4 percent to 11.3 percent.

The 20-25 percent drop in preterm birthrates is larger than expected, but consistent with other studies linking birth problems to air pollution around power plants, said UCSF Preterm Birth Initiative collaborator Joan Casey, the lead author of a study, which was published May 22 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The findings, she said, could help policy makers in states like California more strategically plan the decommissioning of power plants as they build more renewable sources of energy, in order to have the biggest health impact.

The study was supported by the California Preterm Birth Initiative (PTBi-CA) at UCSF and funded by Marc and Lynne Benioff.

News Coverage

Read the New York Times coverage of the study, here: Air Pollution Near Power Plants Tied to Premature Births

Read the press release covered by UC Berkley News, here: Closing coal, oil power plants leads to healthier babies

Research Publication

Read the full study from The American Journal of Epidemiology, May 2018, online here: Coal and oil power plant retirements in California associated with reduced preterm birth among populations nearby

Read a commentary on the study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology, May 2018, here: The power of preterm birth to motivate a cleaner environment