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Schematic: The Effects of Pollution from a Coal-Fired Power Plant

Economics professors Muzhe Yang and Shin-Yi Chou teamed with a University of Pennsylvania data analyst and a National Taiwan University engineer to study the effects of sulfur dioxide emissions from a coal-fired power plant on baby birth weights.

They found that infants born in New Jersey, 20 to 30 miles downwind from the Portland Generating Station in Pennsylvania, were 6.5 percent likelier to have a low birth weight (below 2,500 grams) and 17.12 percent likelier to have a very low birth weight (below 1,500 grams).

Yang said the findings show that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should play a larger role in settling interstate pollution disputes. PGS stopped burning coal in 2014.

1. Petitions
New Jersey filed two with the EPA in 2010 when studies found that PGS was emitting 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide a year.

2. Drifting SO2
Using atmospheric dispersal and wind trajectory modeling, the state showed that SO2 from PGS was reaching four relatively affluent New Jersey counties—Warren, Morris, Hunterdon and Sussex—that lie 20 to 30 miles downwind of the power plant.

3. Birth data
The researchers examined a database of all live single births in New Jersey since 1990—five years before PGS SO2 emissions were first recorded.

4. Conclusion
The group determined that from 1990-2006, women in the four counties were at greater risk than women in areas with similar average incomes of having babies with low birth weights.

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