Research reveals 40% increase in chromosomal birth defects near European landfill sites

Research published in The Lancet on 26 January has revealed that there is a 40% increase in chromosomal birth defects, such as Down’s syndrome, within a three kilometre radius of landfill sites.


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The findings are the result of a new investigation of data from a 1998 study that revealed a 33% increase in the risk of non-chromosomal abnormalities in babies, such as cleft palates, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems, and disorders of the central nervous system for those living close to landfill sites.

However, the new study of residents around 23 landfill sites in Europe, carried out by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has not yet established a link between the birth defects and the landfill sites, other than proximity.

“It remains unclear whether increased risks detected by the study result from living near a hazardous waste landfill site or from other factors,” said Martine Vrijheid, one of the researchers on the study. “Most importantly, it is not known how much, if any, exposure mothers had to chemicals from the landfills. Further research into exposure of residents to landfill sites is needed to interpret the findings.”

The UK Government has responded to the findings by referring to a much larger study carried out by the UK government (see related story) and published in August last year in the British Medical Journal (see the paper – requires Adobe Acrobat). This research revealed a 7% increased rate of both chromosomal and non-chromosomal birth defects around landfill sites. The Government’s expert advisory committee noted that this excess risk was small and could be accounted for by other factors, a Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) told edie. Further government research is currently underway into effects on residents living near landfill sites.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth, are calling on the UK Government to reduce the amount of toxic waste going to landfill, by increasing the landfill tax and setting a higher rate for hazardous waste.

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