Special Reports
China's Pollution Causing Birth Defects

Asia News
January 10, 2009

Heart disease, cleft palate, hydrocephalus are the most widespread birth
defects, the leading cause of infant death

A five-year study on the part of a group of doctors in Jiangsu has
established that atmospheric pollution produces one tenth of congenital
birth defects; 50% of the remaining cases can also be attributed to
environmental problems. The group that studied the phenomenon was led by
Dr. Hu Yali, of Nanjing University.

From 2001-2006, birth defects increased by 50% in China, affecting 1.2
million newborns. Dr. Hu's group studied 26,000 women who gave birth from
2001-2005 in Jangsu, which is one of the richest provinces in the country.

The most widespread defect involves heart disease, strictly connected to
air pollution. This kind of defect is difficult to detect with prenatal testing.

The second defect is cleft palate, which is also related to air pollution
but is easier to detect. For this reason, families often ask for an
abortion as soon as it is detected, out of the fear that it could be
accompanied by other birth defects.

The third most widespread defect is hydrocephalus (an excess of liquid in
the brain), which according to studies is provoked by motor vehicle emissions.

"Birth defects have become the single biggest killer of mainland infants,"
Dr. Hu stated in Nanjing newspaper.

The percentage of birth defects in Jiangsu is relatively low (1.1%). But
in poorer provinces, or more polluted areas, the number is much higher,
although comprehensive studies have not yet been conducted.

In 2007, a study carried out in Taiyuan, capital of the province of
Shanxi, with a large concentration of coal mines, demonstrated that an
abundance of fine particles in the air is one of the leading factors in
spontaneous abortion, birth defects, and infant death.

For 80% of Chinese, air and water pollution is "the greatest threat" in
the country. The degradation of the environment is one of the results of
the unbridled industrial development that has taken place in China over
the past 30 years. In 2006, China became the most polluted country in the
world, surpassing the United States.


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