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China birth defects rise sharply

10th February 2009

According to a Chinese media report, the country's environmental pollution is causing a sharp rise in the number of recorded birth defects.


The largest increases were noted in coal mining, chemical producing areas such as Shanxi and Inner Mongolia, where officials believe the problems originate.

According to the government, the most common birth defects are cleft palate, extra fingers or toes, congenital heart disease, and neural tube defects.

China has reported the trend before. In 2007, an investigative commission found that the rate of birth defects had risen by 40% since 2001.

The number of birth defects per 10,000 births was 104.9 in 2001, and 145.5 in 2006.

An Huanxiao of Shanxi said that the problem of birth defects is related to environmental pollution, especially in eight main coal zones.

Jiang Fan of the National Population and Family Planning Commission said that, every 30 seconds, a child with apparent physical defects is born in China.

This hints that there is a human cost to China's quick upsurge of development.

If birth defects are suspected, Chinese officials are more insistent on abortions as part of its population control measures.

According to researchers, exposure to nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulates in the air are also responsible for the alarming increase. Jiang said the number of newborns with birth defects is constantly increasing in both urban and rural areas, and that the rather alarming increase has forced the country to kick off a high-level prevention plan.

Jiang said that the commission has targeted eight main areas and introduced measures against environmental contamination.

According to the World Health Organisation, the worldwide average rate for birth defects is between 3% and 5%.

However, this statistic applies not only to apparent physical defects but also to other developmental issues children face.

Environmentalists lauded the government's acknowledgment.

Huo Daishan said that many Chinese are wondering why their lives are supposed to be getting better when there are more and more babies born with birth defects and couples who are infertile.

Huo is an activist from the province of Henan who has fought the printing, paper manufacturing and chemical dye factories that he believes cause an increase of disease along the Huai River.

In a statement, Greenpeace China said that the statement from the National Population and Family Planning Commission once again proved that coal burning is not only a climate killer, but one of the major health hazards in China.

Tang Deliang of Columbia University made a study in the southwestern city of Chongqing.

According to his study, babies born near coal-fired power plants frequently have a lower birth height and birth weight, as well as slowed motor development.

Tang Deliang said that it was clear that the pollutants caused damage to the DNA, and that this was something that people were strictly forbidden to talk about in the past.


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