Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy



First Adviser

Chou, Shin-Yi

Other advisers/committee members

Lamadrid, Alberto; Cotet-Grecu, Anca


According to the fetal origins hypothesis, adverse events that occur while a fetus is in-utero may have lasting impacts throughout the duration of the individual’s lifetime. Therefore, from a policy standpoint, understanding the factors that affect prenatal health are of utmost importance. The purpose of this study is to examine how prenatal exposure to sulfur dioxide (SO2), one of six criteria pollutants monitored by the U.S. EPA, affects infant health at birth. In particular, we consider outcomes related to birth weight, prematurity, and APGAR scores.For this study, we integrate data from several different sources. Pollution and emissions data come from the EPA’s Air Quality System and Air Markets Program Data, respectively. Weather and wind data are obtained from the National Climactic Data Center Integrated Surface Data. For infant health outcomes, we utilize two data sets—discharge abstracts from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) State Inpatient Database for New Jersey and birth certificate records obtained from the New Jersey Department of Health. Our identification strategy follows Yang and Chou (2015), a setting under which SO2 emitted from a power plant in Pennsylvania travels to New Jersey by way of the prevailing wind. We construct an IV for zip-code-level SO2 exposure that adjusts plant-level SO2 emissions using wind direction from the emission source to the mother’s zip code of residence. Using the HCUP data, we uncover strong first- and second-stage results; exposure to SO2 during pregnancy can increase the likelihood of an LBW birth by 0.5 percentage points and VLBW birth by 0.4 percentage points. Unfortunately, we find mixed results using the birth certificates, but further investigation will be necessary using these records.Nonetheless, even at today’s relatively low levels of SO2, thanks largely to the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970, our estimates indicate that the benefit of pollution abatement can be significant, even for an affluent region, as in our study, which already has excellent access to health care.

Included in

Economics Commons