Coal plant closure in China led to improvements in children's health, research shows

This is Tongliang, China, after the closure of the coal-burning power plant in 2004. Credit: Deliang Tang/Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health

Decreased exposure to air pollution in utero is linked with improved childhood developmental scores and higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key protein for brain development, according to a study looking at the closure of a coal-burning power plant in China led by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health.

The study is the first to assess BDNF and cognitive development with respect to to (PAH), a component of air pollution commonly emitted from coal burning. Results appear online in the journal PLOS ONE.

The 2004 closure of a coal-burning power plant in Tongliang, China provided the opportunity to investigate the benefits to development and the impacts on BDNF associated with decreased levels of exposure to PAH. This study has linked decreases in air pollution with decreased levels of PAH-DNA adducts in cord blood, a biological marker of exposure, and reported an association between PAH exposure and adverse developmental outcomes in children born before the plant closure. Currently, coal-fired produce more than 70% of China's electricity.

Deliang Tang, MD, DrPH, and his colleagues followed two groups of mother-child pairs from pregnancy into early childhood. One of the groups was comprised of mothers pregnant while the coal power plant was still open and the other after it closed. Developmental delay was determined using a standardized test, the Gesell Developmental Schedule (GDS), which was adapted for the Chinese population. The GDS assesses children in four areas: motor skills, learned behaviors, language, and social adaptation.

This is Tongliang, China, before the 2004 closure of its coal-burning power plant. Credit: Deliang Tang/Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health

The researchers found that, as hypothesized, decreased PAH exposure resulting from the power plant closure was associated with both increased BDNF levels and increased developmental scores. PAH-DNA adducts were significantly lower in the babies born after the coal power plant shutdown as compared to those born before the closure, indicating a meaningful exposure reduction. Moreover, the researchers found that the mean level of BDNF was higher among children born after the closure of the power plant. The impacts of PAH exposure and BDNF on developmental scores was also analyzed considering all the children, including both the pre- and post-closure groups. Increased scores in the average, motor, and social areas were linked with of BDNF.

"The key to limiting the health impacts of environmental exposures is policy change supported by scientific evidence. These findings indicate that regulation can rapidly decrease exposure and improve health outcomes among the most sensitive populations, providing support for implementing additional measures such as the closure of the Tongliang coal-fired power plant," says Dr. Tang, director of the China studies at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health and associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School.

Additionally, the results provide important insight into the relationship between PAH exposure, BDNF, and developmental outcomes, and evidence for BDNF as a marker for the neurodevelopment effects of exposure to . More research is necessary to determine if the damage caused by environmental exposures, such as PAH, can be mitigated by presence of an enriched environment.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Air pollution and psychological distress during pregnancy

Oct 07, 2013

Maternal psychological distress combined with exposure to air pollution during pregnancy have an adverse impact on the child's behavioral development, according to researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental ...

Obese children more susceptible to asthma from air pollution

Jan 22, 2014

Obese children exposed to high levels of air pollutants were nearly three times as likely to have asthma, compared with non-obese children and lower levels of pollution exposure, report researchers at Columbia University ...

Recommended for you

Independent safety investigation needed in the NHS

4 hours ago

The NHS should follow the lead of aviation and other safety-critical industries and establish an independent safety investigation agency, according to a paper published today by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. The au ...

Sexual fantasies: Are you normal?

8 hours ago

Hoping for sex with two women is common but fantasizing about golden showers is not. That's just one of the findings from a research project that scientifically defines sexual deviation for the first time ever. It was undertaken ...

AMA 'Code of Ethics' offers guidance for physicians

14 hours ago

(HealthDay)—The American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Ethics and other articles provide guidance for physicians in relation to public health emergencies, according to a report from the AMA.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.