In the United States we are often protected from some of the leading causes of maternal and infant death associated with pregnancy. This is because much of our country has access to clean drinking water, medical help, and prenatal care. However, just because much of our country has access, that doesn’t mean that a percentage won’t experience a lack of access to basic health and pregnancy care.

A study done at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs has found that contaminated water may cause children to be born prematurely. The definition of premature in this case is anything less than 5.5 pounds. The study was featured in the Canadian Journal of Economics, and it highlighted the need for improving the water situation in in areas with high levels of water contamination. The study showed that women in these areas are not likely to move to places with access to better water, so it’s crucial that we bring the changes to them.

In addition to preterm birth, contaminated water can also cause other numerous cognitive and developmental impairments. Janet Currie, the Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing, says that "fetuses are vulnerable to all types of pollution, including water contamination caused by chemicals and bacteria. This contamination can lead to a host of problems, including low-birth-weight babies who can have lifelong cognitive struggles. It's a particular problem for less-educated women who also presumably have less options in terms of housing."

Past studies have focused on air pollution, which has been linked to disorders such as autism, but the new study is Currie’s first to evaluate the harm done by contaminated water. The research team examined ten years’ worth of data from the Jew Jersey birth records as well as data on drinking-water quality from 1997 to 2007. Currie and her teams also examined violation records from 488 water districts in New Jersey as well. They found that over a fourth of the districts had water contamination violations that affected over 30,000 people. The violations were both chemical and bacterial.

The study found that many mothers were aware of the water contamination. Some were able to adapt, but others had no means of changing their living situations. "We found that infants exposed to contamination in utero tend to have mothers who are younger, less educated and less likely to be married than other mothers. They are also more likely to be African-American or Hispanic," Currie said. "The results also suggest that mothers who are less educated are less likely than other mothers to move in response to contamination, while older mothers are more likely to drink bottled water or move."

Source: Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (2013, October 8). Something in the (expecting mother's) water: Contaminated water breeds low-weight babies, sometimes born prematurely. ScienceDaily.

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