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Tuesday, 27 October, 1998, 04:09 GMT
Childhood cancers 'linked to chemical exposure at birth'
Childhood cancer may be linked to exposure to industrial processes
Exposure to industrial hazards at birth may increase the likelihood of developing childhood cancer, according to new research.

A 27-year study in Britain found that children born near industrial sites that use high-temperature furnaces or discharge volatile organic compounds are more likely to develop cancers such as leukaemia.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham studied over 22,000 childhood deaths before the age of 16.

They looked at environmental factors at the time of the child's birth and death and found significant geographical clusters of cases near industrial sites.

The study, which covered deaths between 1953 and 1980, suggests that a mother exposed to low-atmospheric concentrations of cancer-causing substances may act as a filter, passing them on to her foetus or baby through the placenta or breast milk.

Hospital risks

The researchers, who include Dr Estelle Gilman of the Leukaemia Research Fund Centre for Clinical Epidemiology in Leeds, had previously shown the existence of geographical clusters of childhood cancer cases.

They said these were linked to exposure to industrial processes and waste.

The new study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, also found that large hospitals with big incinerators could be a cause of childhood cancer - whereas it confirmed that nuclear installations and pesticide factories did not present a risk.

The researchers said: "Large hospitals usually have incinerators, and their notorious and often low-level emissions of black smoke long escaped prosecution through a legal immunity enjoyed by 'crown property'."

Processes like furniture and rubber manufacture and electroplating were also found to be dangerous.

The Imperial Cancer Research Fund, which is involved in a big study of environmental, genetic and other influences on childhood study, said it welcomed any new research, although it said the issue was controversial.

It will consider the new study in the light of other research.

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