Premature births linked to air pollution cost the U.S. more than $4 billion in 2010, according to a new study.
Nearly 16,000 premature births — a little more than 3 percent of all premature births in the U.S. — are linked to harmful particulates in the air. Urban areas saw the highest impacts.
New analysis published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives tallied the yearly costs: $760 million for extended hospital stays and medication, and $3.57 billion of economic output lost because of disabilities linked to premature births.
Environmental toxins — and especially air pollution — lead to more toxic chemicals in the mother's bloodstream and weaken her immune system. Premature infants can have neurological and respiratory problems.
Researchers say reducing preterm births — and their associated health care and economic costs — means limiting harmful emissions.
"For policymakers, decisions about regulating air pollution come down to a trade-off between the cost of preventing air pollution and the health and economic benefits of limiting air pollution sources," an author of the study told CBS News.
The team intends to eventually expand its analysis to a global scale in hopes of inspiring future policy changes.