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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 00:34 GMT
Fears grow over landfill defect link
Landfill sites have previously been linked to birth defects
Landfill sites have previously been linked to birth defects
Worries over a link between living near landfill sites and birth defects have been fuelled by further scientific evidence.

A study has suggested there is a 40% higher risk of congenital chromosomal abnormalities such as Down's syndrome, for people living close to the sites.

The study, published in The Lancet, reveals fresh data from a 1998 study which also showed a 33% increase in the risk of non-chromosomal anomalies, such as neural-tube defects and cleft palates in people living near landfill sites.

A previous UK study, funded by the government last year had found a 7% increased risk of all types of birth defects for those living within two kilometres of hazardous sites.

This study adds to our fears for babies being born near toxic landfill sites

Friends of the Earth
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said their latest study should lead to more work on the suggested link.

Exposure questions

The team looked at 245 cases of chromosomal anomaly and 2,412 healthy individuals who lived near 23 landfill sites across Europe.

The study covered two areas in the UK - Essex and Mersey - and information was taken from the England and Wales Down's syndrome register.

After adjusting for several other factors such as maternal age and socioeconomic status, it was found there was a 40% higher risk of chromosomal anomalies in people who lived close to sites, up to three kilometres than those who lived further away, between three and seven kilometres.

Dr Martine Vrijheid, who led the research, said: "It remains unclear whether increased risks detected by the study result from living near a hazardous waste landfill site or from other factors.

"Most importantly, it is not known how much, if any, exposure mothers had to chemicals from the landfills.

"Further research into exposure of residents to landfill sites is needed to interpret the findings."

It is estimated there are more than 300 landfill sites in England and Wales licensed to accept toxic waste.

Tighter control demands

Environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth are calling for government action to reduce the use of hazardous landfill sites, in the light of the Lancet research.

Mike Childs, senior waste campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "This study adds to our fears for babies being born near toxic landfill sites.

"This is the third study showing that toxic landfill sites are a real health risk.

"The government must now take action. They must reduce the amount of toxic waste going to landfill by increasing the landfill tax and setting a higher rate for hazardous waste."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said its advisory experts suggested the excess risk uncovered by the study could be explained by factors other than toxic waste.

"Women are advised to continue to follow the standard advice on antenatal care; nevertheless we agree with the authors of the Eurohazcon study that further research is needed, and work on the exposure of residents near landfill sites is under way as part of the government's continuing programme of work on landfill sites and health."

The BBC's Tom Heap
"This report suggests a mathematical link"
Robert Hughes, campaigner
"There needs to be research done"
Helen Ayalett lives near a landfill site
"We need a public enquiry"
See also:

16 Jul 01 | Scotland
New waste law sparks concern
28 Aug 00 | Scotland
Villagers dig in over waste store
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