Toxic Waste Landfills Pose Birth Defect Risks

LONDON, United Kingdom, January 25, 2002 (ENS) - Women living within three kilometers (two miles) of a hazardous waste landfill site have a 40 percent greater risk of conceiving a child with a chromosomal birth defect, such as Down's syndrome, concludes a new study published today in the medical journal "The Lancet."

The findings are a companion to 1998 results suggesting a 33 percent increase in the risk of non-chromosomal birth anomalies such as spina bifida.

Both studies were carried out under the European Commission funded "Eurohazcon" project, and involved epidemiological research in the vicinities of 23 landfills accepting hazardous waste in Denmark, Italy, Belgium, France and England.


UK landfill (Photo courtesy UK Dept. of Environment)
The latest findings have sparked a battle in the UK where eight of the study landfill sites are located. Friends of the Earth UK said the research "adds to our concerns for babies born near toxic landfill sites," and called for immediate government action to reduce landfilling of hazardous wastes by increasing landfill tax rates and setting statutory targets.

Britain's waste industry responded angrily, dismissing the Eurohazcon research as "irrelevant and sensationalist." The article "relies on an obsolete, superseded and widely criticised benchmark," said trade association ESA, and "is quite simply irrelevant to modern regulated landfills".

The UK health ministry was more cautious, downplaying health fears but confirming more research. Last year, a government funded study found a one percent increase in the risk of birth defects in babies born from mothers within two kilometers (1.25 miles) of a landfill site, and a seven percent increase for those born from mothers living near sites accepting hazardous waste.

Friends of the Earth charges that the government’s Waste Strategy does little to reduce the amount of hazardous and industrial waste sent to landfill, merely setting a non-statutory target to reduce the amount by 15 percent by 2005.

The Eurohazcon researchers acknowledge their findings do not prove a causal link. They suggest more research into chemical causes of chromosomal anomalies and levels of resident exposure to substances from landfills.

Locations of toxic landfills are available online at:

The 1998 Eurohazcon study is reported here.


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