UK to research birth defects in populations living near landfill sites

The UK Government has commissioned its first piece of research into the possibility that women who live within three miles of a landfill site have an increased risk of giving birth to a child with a birth defect.

Research specific to the UK has been announced by Environment Minister Michael Meacher and Health Minister Tessa Jowell. The study will be conducted by the Small Area Health Statistical Unit (SAHSU) at Imperial College.

Questions regarding birth defect rates and proximity to landfill sites was brought to the fore in 1998, when a study of data from five European countries showed that mothers who lived within three miles of a landfill site had a 33% increased chance of giving birth to children with birth defects. Malformation of the cardiac septa (the partition that divides the heart) was shown to be the most common defect.

The Eurohazcon study looked at data from Antwerp, Belgium; Lyon, France; Funen County, Denmark; Tuscany, Italy; the Western North Thames, England; northern England; and Glasgow, Scotland.

The Eurohazcon study’s authors did not investigate the cause of the increased risk of birth defects, but did state that: “people who live near landfill sites may be exposed to chemicals released into the air, water or soil. Air contamination includes off-site migration of gases, dust and chemicals bound to become contaminated, and these may in turn contaminate potable water supplies or water for recreational use. Chemical contamination of air, water or soil may also affect locally grown and consumed food produce. Thus, a landfill site may be a health risk for local residents and their children.”

Of the 1,089 children born with birth defects between 1987 and 1993 in the Eurohazcon study areas, there were 436 in the Northern England area, 60 in the Western North Thames and 168 in Glasgow.

The UK study will examine birth outcomes, including congenital anomalies, and cancer in populations living close to landfill sites. The study’s conclusions are scheduled for publication next summer.

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