Environmental Pollution from Coal Smoke, Pesticides Linked to Birth Defects

According to the findings of new research, exposure to environmental pollutants, such as coal smoke and pesticides, could lead to an increased risk of birth defects. 

A study conducted by Chinese researchers was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finding that pregnant women exposed to smoke from burning coal and pesticides were four times as likely to give birth to a child that suffered from neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida.

Researchers from Beijing looked at women from a county in China with a higher than average rate of neural tube birth defects and found that many of those who gave birth to malformed children had high amounts of chemicals in their placenta that are commonly associated with inhaling coal smoke and pesticides.

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The study looked at 80 newborns and aborted fetuses from mothers in the northern Shanxi province of China, where the rate of neural tube birth defects is 14 for every 1,000 births, compared to 10 out of every 1,000 in other parts of the country. They found that the placentas of many of the women who gave birth to children with defects contained high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are associated with coal production, as well as DDT and other pesticides.

Researchers said they found a dose-specific relationship between PAHs and neural tube defects, which were four times as likely to occur in women with PAHs in their placenta, than those without. No dose-specific relationship was found between pesticides and the birth defects, which appeared to be linked to three times the risk of developing birth defects.

Spina bifida occurs when the vertebrae fail to close over the spinal cord, which can cause permanent disability and injury for the child. Since the neural tube closure usually happens around the 23rd to 27th day of pregnancy, the onset of spina bifida often occurs before women know they are pregnant.


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