Incinerators may put babies at risk
Date released 29 May 2003
The risk of stillbirth and some abnormalities may be slightly increased among babies of mothers living near incinerators and crematoria, suggests research by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
The findings, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, are based on an analysis of births in Cumbria, north west England, between 1956 and 1993. During this period, there were almost 245 000 births, of which 3234 were stillborn, and a further 2663 babies died shortly after birth. 1569 had congenital abnormalities.
There was no increased risk of stillbirth or death shortly after birth, overall among babies whose mothers lived near incinerators. But after taking account of influential factors, such as birth order and multiple births, the risk of neural tube defects, particularly spina bifida, was 17% higher and heart defects 12% higher.
When the analysis concentrated on birth defects and stillbirths in the period before the incinerators were operational, no increased risk was found.
The risk of stillbirth was 4% higher and the risk of the life threatening brain abnormality anencephalus was 5% higher among babies whose mothers lived near to crematoria.
The authors point out that the introduction of antenatal screening and termination of pregnancy would have reduced the number of potential stillbirths and babies born with lethal congenital abnormalities in recent years. Added to which, the lack of data on pregnancies of under 28 weeks could have underestimated the extent of serious and lethal birth defects
Incinerators and crematoria may emit harmful chemicals, including dioxins, although little is known about the long term effects of prolonged low dose exposure. But because of a lack of emissions data, no definitive conclusions can be drawn on the biological plausibility of the findings.
The study does not provide conclusive evidence of a causal effect, but nevertheless the statistical findings bear further investigation, say the authors, especially in view of the fact that so few comparable studies have been carried out, and that incineration is becoming more widely used as a method of waste disposal.
Contact: Professor Louise Parker, School of Clinical Medical Sciences, University of Newcastle, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle, UK. Tel: +44 (0)191 2023037. Mobile (0776) 841-8327. Email: email@example.com
Birth defect risks rise close to incinerators
By Julie Wheldon
29 May 2003
Women living near incinerators have a higher risk of having a baby with spina bifida or a heart defect, research released yesterday said. It also found an increased risk of stillbirths among women who lived close to a crematorium.
The researchers, who were led by Professor Louise Parker of Newcastle University and who published their findings in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, stressed that they did not find conclusive evidence that living near an incinerator or crematorium caused birth defects or stillbirths.
But they said the issue should be investigated further, especially as incineration was becoming a widely used method of waste disposal. The research analysed births in Cumbria between 1956 and 1993. There were almost 245,000 births, of which 3,234 were stillborn and 1,569 had congenital abnormalities.
The risk of neural tube defects, particularly spina bifida, for babies of women who lived near incinerators was 17 per cent higher, and heart defects 12 per cent higher. For women who lived near a crematorium, the risk of stillbirth was 4 per cent higher and the chance of the baby having a brain abnormality known as anencephalus was 5 per cent higher.
"Main results: ...there was an increased risk of lethal congenital anomaly, in particular spina bifida ...and heart defects ...around incinerators and an increased risk of stillbirth ...and anencephalus ...around crematoriums."
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2003;57;456-461
© 2003 BMJ Publishing Group
Adverse pregnancy outcomes around incinerators and crematoriums in Cumbria, north west England, 195693
T J B Dummer, H O Dickinson and L Parker
School of Clinical Medical Sciences, Paediatric and Lifecourse Epidemiology Research Group, Department of Child Health, University of Newcastle, Sir James Spence Institute, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Professor L Parker, School of Clinical Medical Sciences, Paediatric and Lifecourse Epidemiology Research Group, University of Newcastle, Sir James Spence Institute, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle NE1 4LP, UK; firstname.lastname@example.org
Study objective: To investigate the risk of stillbirth, neonatal death, and lethal congenital anomaly among babies of mothers living close to incinerators and crematoriums in Cumbria, north west England, 195693.
Design: Retrospective cohort study. Logistic regression was used to investigate the risk of each outcome in relation to proximity at birth to incinerators and crematoriums, adjusting for social class, year of birth, birth order, and multiple births. Continuous odds ratios for trend with proximity to sites were estimated.
Setting: All 3234 stillbirths, 2663 neonatal deaths, and 1569 lethal congenital anomalies among the 244 758 births to mothers living in Cumbria, 19561993.
Main results: After adjustment for social class, year of birth, birth order, and multiple births, there was an increased risk of lethal congenital anomaly, in particular spina bifida (odds ratio 1.17, 95% CI: 1.07 to 1.28) and heart defects (odds ratio 1.12, 95% CI: 1.03 to 1.22) around incinerators and an increased risk of stillbirth (odds ratio 1.04, 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.07) and anencephalus (odds ratio 1.05, 95% CI: 1.00 to 1.10) around crematoriums.
Conclusions: The authors cannot infer a causal effect from the statistical associations reported in this study. However, as there are few published studies with which to compare our results, the risk of spina bifida, heart defects, stillbirth, and anencephalus in relation to proximity to incinerators and crematoriums should be investigated further, in particular because of the increased use of incineration as a method of waste disposal.
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