Effect of oil spills on infant mortality in Nigeria

Edited by Anthony J. Bebbington, Clark University, Worcester, MA, and approved February 1, 2019 (received for review October 24, 2018)
March 5, 2019
116 (12) 5467-5471

Significance

Onshore oil spills can lead to irreversible environmental degradation and potentially pose hazards to human health, but scientific evidence on their health effects is lacking. We fill this gap by studying the causal effects of onshore oil spills on neonatal and infant mortality rates. We compare siblings conceived before and after nearby oil spills and find that nearby oil spills double the neonatal mortality rate. Given that oil spills occur with high frequency in the densely populated areas along pipelines in Nigeria, they are the cause of an alarming ongoing human tragedy. Our results suggest that efforts to prevent oil spills in the Niger Delta could save the lives of thousands of newborns every year.

Abstract

Oil spills can lead to irreversible environmental degradation and are a potential hazard to human health. We study how onshore oil spills affect neonatal and infant mortality by combining spatial data from the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor with Demographic and Health Surveys. To identify a causal effect, we compare siblings born to the same mother, conceived before and after a nearby oil spill. We find that nearby oil spills that occur before conception increase neonatal mortality by 38.3 deaths per 1,000 live births, which corresponds to an increase of around 100% on the sample mean. The effect is fairly uniform across girls and boys, socio-economic backgrounds, and locations. We show that this effect is not driven by events related to oil production or violent conflict. Rather, our results are consistent with medical and epidemiological evidence showing that exposure to hydrocarbons can pose risks to fetal development. We provide further evidence suggesting that the effects of oil spills on neonatal mortality persist for several years after the occurrence of an oil spill.

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Data Availability

Data deposition: Dataset is hosted by the Harvard Dataverse (DOI: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/Q7MM1G).

Acknowledgments

We thank two anonymous reviewers and Aline Bütikofer, Renoud Coulomb, Beatrix Eugster, Joseph Gomes, Isabel Guenther, Simon Lüchinger, Michael Knaus, Alessandro Tarozzi, seminar audiences at the Chr. Michelsen Institute, ETH Zurich, the Navarra Center for International Development, the University of Gothenburg, the University of Melbourne, and the University of St. Gallen for helpful comments and discussions. We thank Philine Widmer for excellent research assistance.

Supporting Information

Appendix (PDF)

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 116 | No. 12
March 19, 2019
PubMed: 30837310

Classifications

Data Availability

Data deposition: Dataset is hosted by the Harvard Dataverse (DOI: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/Q7MM1G).

Submission history

Published online: March 5, 2019
Published in issue: March 19, 2019

Keywords

  1. onshore oil spills
  2. infant mortality
  3. neonatal mortality
  4. Nigeria
  5. sibling comparisons

Acknowledgments

We thank two anonymous reviewers and Aline Bütikofer, Renoud Coulomb, Beatrix Eugster, Joseph Gomes, Isabel Guenther, Simon Lüchinger, Michael Knaus, Alessandro Tarozzi, seminar audiences at the Chr. Michelsen Institute, ETH Zurich, the Navarra Center for International Development, the University of Gothenburg, the University of Melbourne, and the University of St. Gallen for helpful comments and discussions. We thank Philine Widmer for excellent research assistance.

Notes

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

Authors

Affiliations

Anna Bruederle
Swiss Institute for International Economics (SIAW-HSG), University of St. Gallen, CH-9000 St. Gallen, Switzerland
Swiss Institute for International Economics (SIAW-HSG), University of St. Gallen, CH-9000 St. Gallen, Switzerland

Notes

1
To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: [email protected].
Author contributions: A.B. and R.H. designed research; A.B. and R.H. analyzed data; A.B. and R.H. wrote the paper; and A.B. prepared data.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Effect of oil spills on infant mortality in Nigeria
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 116
    • No. 12
    • pp. 5199-5831

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