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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UAB Investigates Birth Outcomes and Link to Coke Production and Steel Making Facilities

Previous research has shown exposure to air pollution increases the risk of adverse birth outcomes, although the effects of residential proximity to significant industrial point sources are less defined. The objective of a study led by Dr. Julia M. Gohlke, assistant professor in the department of environmental health sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham — in collaboration with Mr. Travis R. Porter, formerly a UAB School of Public Health student and currently at Tulane University; Dr. Shia T. Kent, postdoctoral trainee in UAB’s department of epidemiology; and Dr. Wei Su, program manager I, and Ms. Heidi M. Beck, program manager I, in UAB’s Center for the Study of Community Health — was to determine whether yearly reported releases from major industrial point sources are associated with adverse birth outcomes.

[Photo: Dr. Julia M. Gohlke]

Maternal residence from geocoded Alabama birth records between 1991 and 2010 were utilized to calculate distances from coke (the coal residue remaining after distillation, which is used as fuel) and steel production industries reporting emissions to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Logistic regression models were built to determine associations between distance or yearly fugitive emissions (volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic compounds, and metals) from reporting facilities and preterm birth or low birth weight, adjusting for covariates including maternal age, race, payment method, education level, year, and parity.

Dr. Gohlke and her fellow researchers found that a small but significant association between preterm birth and residential proximity to coke and steel production facilities remained after adjustment for covariates. Above-average emissions of volatile organic compounds from these facilities during the year of birth were associated with low birth weight, whereas metals emissions were associated with preterm birth.

The present investigation suggests fugitive emissions from industrial point sources may increase the risk of adverse birth outcomes in surrounding neighborhoods, although the cross-sectional study design has limitations. The team concluded that further research teasing apart the relationship between exposure to emissions and area-level deprivation in neighborhoods surrounding industrial facilities and their combined effects on birth outcomes is needed.

“Spatiotemporal Association between Birth Outcomes and Coke Production and Steel Making Facilities in Alabama, USA: A Cross-Sectional Study” was published in October in the journal Environmental Health.

Journal article: