Dumping defects

Landfill sites linked to birth defects

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

living within two kilometres of a landfill site increases a woman's risk of having a baby with a birth defect by up to seven per cent, recent research conducted in the uk shows. The link though is not conclusive, say researchers at Imperial College, London, and add that more research is needed to confirm the association and establish which landfill emissions might be responsible.

The new study is the biggest yet, looking at over 9,500 landfill sites, some of which handle hazardous waste. In the uk , 80 per cent of the population lives within two kilometres of a landfill site. Mike Childs, campaigns director at Friends of the Earth uk , says, "The government must reduce the amount of waste going to landfill."

The research had shown a wide variation in rates of different birth defects in babies of mothers living within the two kilometre radius. Rates of spina bifida increased by five per cent, while the incidence of heart and circulation defects was four per cent higher. Overall, there was a one per cent increase in the rate of birth defects in babies born to mothers who lived near a landfill site. However, when the researchers looked at sites that handle hazardous waste, such as flammable liquids, as well as domestic waste, the overall rate increased by 7 per cent. The team also found that the rate of babies born with a low birth weight was five per cent higher. Low birth weight has been associated with increased risk of diabetes, heart and cognitive problems in later life.

Although they tried to account for factors such as poverty, maternal smoking and a poor diet in their analysis, they say these factors could account for part of the apparent 'landfill effect'. Housing areas closest to landfill sites are usually are of the deprived and poor and young mothers tend to have a poor diet and low birth weight babies. The study reaffirms that lifestyle is the important factor for a healthy pregnancy (British Medical Journal, vol 323, p 363)

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