December 27, 2019
2 min read
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Study calls attention to cost of air pollution-related conditions in kids

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Frederica Perera, PhD
Frederica Perera

A review published in Environmental Research summarized per-case cost estimates for six air pollution-related childhood health conditions — estimates that may be used for benefit assessments for air pollution regulations and climate change policies, the authors said.

Frederica Perera, PhD, professor of environmental health sciences and director of translational research at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health, and colleagues compiled cost estimates for air-pollution-related health conditions including low birth weight, preterm birth, autism spectrum disorder, asthma, ADHD and IQ reduction in children. As an example of estimated cumulative costs, the researchers wrote that $267 million could be saved if the number of preterm births caused by PM2.5 — a measure of harmful particulate matter — was reduced by only 1%.

“We previously published the relationships between concentrations of air pollutants and adverse birth outcomes, asthma and developmental disorders in children,” Perera told Healio. “Here we addressed the need to be able to monetize the benefits of avoiding excess cases of illness and developmental problems in children linked to fossil fuel-related air pollutants.”

Perera and colleagues conducted a systematic review of 1,065 papers published between Jan. 1, 2000, and June 30, 2018, identifying 12 relevant papers on per-case cost estimates for the six selected health conditions. They restricted analysis to United States studies with supplemental United Kingdom studies, prioritizing reviews with summary cost estimates and papers that offered lifetime cost of illness estimates.

Final estimates ranged from $23,573 for childhood asthma not persisting through adulthood to $3,109,096 for ASD with concurrent intellectual disability. ASD without intellectual disability was estimated at $1,805,941, ADHD persisting from ages 5 to 17 at $182, 045 and asthma from age 3 onset persisting into adulthood at $91,954.

Perera hopes the findings help to “motivate the public and policymakers to support sound policies that are protective of children’s health,” she said.

According to WHO, 40% of the burden from environmentally related disease and more than 88% of the burden of climate change affects children aged 5 years or younger. In a recent report, The Lancet noted that children are at particular risk for adverse effects from climate change, citing low crop yields and extreme weather as potential drivers.

“These are essential inputs to benefits assessments of clean air and climate mitigation policies that can help guide decision-making in these critical areas,” Perera said. “The benefits to children have traditionally been omitted from these assessments.” – by Eamon Dreisbach

Disclosures: Perera reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.