Page last updated at 09:34 GMT, Sunday, 1 February 2009

China birth defects 'up sharply'

Beijing power plant - photo October 2007
The report suggests China's rapid development has a human cost

A senior family planning official in China has noted an alarming rise in the number of babies with birth defects, a Chinese media report says.

Jiang Fan, from China's National Population and Family Planning Commission, said environmental pollution was a cause of the increase.

The coal-mining heartland of Shanxi province had the biggest problem.

China has reported the trend before, and it was not clear if Mr Jiang was commenting on new or old statistics.

A 2007 commission report said the rate of defects had risen 40% since 2001, from 104.9 per 10,000 births to 145.5 in 2006.

Officials blame emissions from Shanxi's large coal and chemical industry for the problems there.

"The problem of birth defects is related to environmental pollution, especially in eight main coal zones," said An Huanxiao, the director of Shanxi provincial family planning agency.

'Prevention plan'

Mr Jiang said a child was born with physical defects every 30 seconds because of the degrading environment.

Correspondents say the report suggests there is a human cost to China's rapid economic development.

Researchers also blamed exposure to nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulates for the increase.

"The number of newborns with birth defects is constantly increasing in both urban and rural areas," China Daily newspaper quoted Mr Jiang as saying.

"The rather alarming increase has forced us to kick off a high-level prevention plan."

The commission had introduced a screening programme in the eight worst-affected provinces, Mr Jiang said.

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