Landfill sites pose some risk to babies - UK study
LONDON - Babies born to mothers who live near landfill sites are slightly more likely to suffer congenital defects, according to a study published last week.
The research, published in the British Medical Journal, concentrated on abnormalities such as deformation of the spinal cord, penis and abdominal wall.
The results showed the rate of such defects was seven percent higher in babies born to mothers who live within two kilometres of a landfill site where special waste including hazardous industrial and commercial refuse is broken down.
Rates of babies who weighed less than normal was around five percent higher near refuse dumps, the report showed.
But co-author Lars Jarup of Imperial College London said their findings showed lower risks than in previous research.
"There are increased risks near to landfill sites but the risk is fairly small," he said. "This type of study can only describe an association, it cant tell you anything about causality."
About 80 percent of the British population live within two kilometres of a landfill site where waste is left to break down.
The research could not take into account other factors which may influence birth defects including poverty, diet and employment.
Landfill sites release large amounts of gas including the explosive greenhouse gas, methane. Commercial refuse can release industrial gases including volatile organic compounds.
The government said further research was needed but sought to deflect a public health scare.
"This is an important study and the government is taking it seriously. The results are difficult to interpret and we need to put them into context," the governments chief medical officer, Pat Troop said in a statement.
"We are not changing our advice to pregnant women and they should continue with the recommended ante-natal programme."
Many of the most serious defects can be detected in ante-natal screening.
Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth called on the government to take more drastic action.
"We cant use this research as an excuse for inaction," Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth said.
"Landfill tax is far too low to act as an incentive for recycling. We would also like to see a higher band of tax for hazardous waste and wed like to see government targets for industrial and commercial waste," he added.
The study found no increase in the rates of cancer in populations living close to landfills sites.
Story by Stephanie Holmes
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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