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Coal plant closure boosts kids’ health

Written by | 22 May 2014 | All Medical News

World Health Matters by Gary Finnegan – China – Declining air pollution following the closure of coal-burning power plants in China has been linked to improved childhood development scores and higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key protein for brain development.

The study is the first to assess BDNF and cognitive development with respect to prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), a component of air pollution commonly emitted from coal burning.

Conducted by scientists at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health in the US, the research focused on child health before and after the 2004 closure of a coal-burning plant in Tongliang, China.

Dr Deliang Tang 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 standardised test, the Gesell Developmental Schedule (GDS), which was adapted for the Chinese population. The GDS assesses children in four areas: motor skills, learned behaviours, language, and social adaptation.

The researchers found that decreased PAH exposure resulting from the power plant closure was associated with both increased BDNF levels and increased developmental scores.

Currently, coal-fired power plants produce more than 70% of China’s electricity but a growing body of research adds weight to concerns about the environmental impact of using coal to meet Chinese energy needs.

“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.

Meanwhile, a separate study has shown that China accounts for a growing number of global ischemic stroke deaths. In 1990, 26% of the world’s total deaths from ischemic stroke were attributed to China but this grew to 29% by 2010, according to a team led by Dr Derrick Bennett, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, UK.

However, it is not all bad news for Chinese lung specialists and their patients. A new paper by Dr Yu Wang from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, China, shows that China has more than halved its tuberculosis (TB) prevalence over the last 20 years.

Rates fell from 170 to 59 per 100,000 population, making China the first country to meet a global target of cutting TB rates by 50% between 1990 and 2015.

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