Bombs and Babies: US Navy Bombing Activity and Infant Health in Vieques, Puerto Rico

Gustavo J. Bobonis, Mark Stabile, Leonardo Tovar

NBER Working Paper No. 22909
Issued in December 2016
NBER Program(s):Children, Development Economics

We study the relationship between in utero exposure to military exercises and children’s early-life health outcomes in a no-war zone. This allows us to document non-economic impacts of military activity on neonatal health outcomes. We combine monthly data on tonnage of ordnance in the context of naval exercises in Vieques, Puerto Rico, with the universe of births in Puerto Rico between 1990 and 2000; studying this setting is useful because these exercises have no negative consequences for local economic activity. We find that a one standard deviation increase in exposure to bombing activity leads to a three per thousand point (70 percent) increase in extremely premature births; a three to seven per thousand point – 34 to 77 percent – increase in the incidence of congenital anomalies; and a five per thousand point increase in low APGAR scores (38 percent). The evidence is generally consistent with the channel of environmental pollution. Given the well-documented relationship between neonatal health and later life outcomes, there is reason to believe that our substantial short-term effects may have longer-term consequences for this population.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22909

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