A recent study indicate that babies born near active coal plants display shorter telomeres — sections of DNA that act as caps at the end of chromosomes — resulting in measurably higher health risks. As reported by Environmental Health News, “the study is the first to show toxics from coal burning may spur shorter telomeres in newborns and adds to a massive body of evidence that closing down plants gives babies a greater chance at a healthy life. Shorter telomeres are linked with a host of health problems, including cancer, heart disease, brain decline, aging and premature death.”
“This is a good news story,” said the study’s lead author, Frederica Perera, a professor and researcher at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. “The benefits of policies that close down plants are reflected at the molecular level.”
High levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) were found in segments of the babies’ DNA while the nearby coal plant was pumping out toxic air pollutants. These pollutants came from the chemicals that burned coal, oil, gas or wood. As a consequence, infants who had these toxins binding to their DNA from exposure to coal burning were more likely to have shorter telomeres and increased health hazards that could influence their risk for disease later on in life.
“PAHs leave a fingerprint on DNA,” stated Perera. “That kind of damage on DNA could lead to mutations or cancer if the damage isn’t repaired in time.”