Association between Residential Proximity to Fuel-Fired Power Plants and Hospitalization Rate for Respiratory Diseases

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND: Air pollution is known to cause respiratory disease Unlike motor vehicle sources, fuel-fired power plants are stationary.

OBJECTIVE: Using hospitalization data, we examined whether living near a fuel-fired power plant increases the likelihood of hospitalization for respiratory disease.

METHODS: Rates of hospitalization for asthma, acute respiratory infection (ARI), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were estimated using hospitalization data for 1993-2008 from New York State in relation to data for residences near fuel-fired power plants. We also explored data for residential proximity to hazardous waste sites.

RESULTS: After adjusting for age, sex, race, median household income, and rural/urban residence, there were significant 11%, 15%, and 17% increases in estimated rates of hospitalization for asthma, ARI, and COPD, respectively, among individuals > 10 years of age living in a ZIP code containing a fuel-fired power plant compared with one that had no power plant. Living in a ZIP code with a fuel-fired power plant was not significantly associated with hospitalization for asthma or ARI among children < 10 years of age. Living in a ZIP code with a hazardous waste site was associated with hospitalization for all outcomes in both age groups, and joint effect estimates were approximately additive for living in a ZIP code that contained a fuel-fired power plant and a hazardous waste site.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to air pollution from fuel-fired power plants and volatile compounds coming from hazardous waste sites increases the risk of hospitalization for respiratory diseases.

KEY WORDS: asthma, COPD, particulates, respiratory infection, 502. Environ Health Perspect 120:807-810 (2012). http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1104146 [Online 27 February 2012]

Power plants provide electricity to satisfy a variety of needs of society. Some power plants, such as hydroelectric-, nuclear-, wind-, and solar-powered plants, provide energy without air pollution, but fuel-fired power plants are the major source of electrical power in most countries. Unfortunately, fuel-fired power plants emit millions of tons of air pollutants each year (Environmental Integrity Project 2007; Krewitt et al. 1998). In addition to for-mation and release of carbon dioxide, which is a major concern with regard to climate change, fuel-fired power plants release sulfur dioxide ([SO.sub.x]), nitrogen oxides ([NO.sub.x]), particulate matter (PM), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and may also release volatile organic compounds (Schneider 2004). Although these air pollutants are also released by motor vehicles and other sources of fossil-fuel combustion, fossil-fuel power plants are localized sources of elevated air pollution.

Air pollutant exposures are associated with increased risks of respiratory (Atkinson a al. 2001) and cardiovascular (Ito et al. 2011; Zanobetti and Schwartz 2005) diseases, and possibly also central nervous system diseases (Perera et al. 2008) and pregnancy complications (O'Connor and Roy 2008). SO, and [NO.sub.x] are known triggers for asthma attacks (Dales et al. 2006; Samoli et al. 2011) and increase risk for lung and heart disease (Jerrett et al. 2009; Wang et al. 2009). Smargiassi et al. (2009) investigated rates of asthmatic episodes in relation to short-term variations in SO, levels coming from petroleum refineries and found significant elevations in both emergency department visits and hospitalizations. Ostro et al. (2009) reported daily rates of hospitalization of children for respiratory disease in relation to elevations in levels of air pollutants and found significantly elevated rates of hospitalization of 4.1% for PM s 2.5 pm in aerodynamic diameter (PM2.5), 3.4% for organic carbon, and 3.3% for NO~. PM coming from power plants may contain PAHs and heavy metals (O'Connor and Roy 2008; Yager et al. …