Scientists have found that the ubiquitous presence of chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) could soon lead to half of all newborn babies being born with at least one birth defect. POPs include different pesticides, industrial chemicals, and compounds released from burning fossil fuels. A new study links these chemicals to neural tube defects, the first of its kind to examine the effects of such environmental factors on fetal development.
“This is a serious concern,” said Dr. Marvin Eastman from the Tobias environmental research centre in New York City. “According to our research, in less than two decades the exponential rate of increase of persistent organic pollutants around the world will soon prevent almost half of newborns worldwide from developing normally and with at least one birth defect.”
Persistent organic pollutants have been found to travel extremely far distances from their original point of release, though their semi-volatile and insoluble characteristics disallow for them to travel directly through the environment. Instead, POPs must attach to particulate matter, and oftentimes through the food supply. This ultimately leads to POPs traveling all over the world and contaminating the global food supply. In fact, POPs can travel to locations where they have never been used, including remote areas as far as Antarctica.
In the study, researchers observed 80 cases of fetuses or newborns with neural tube defects as well as 50 healthy controls from rural countries within the Shanxi Province in the People’s Republic of China. The research team chose this province due to the fact that it has the highest Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) emissions in the country, a potent atmospheric pollutant. These pollutants are produced mainly from mining and burning coal in the area. The Shanxi Province also has the highest rates of neural tube defects in China, most likely a result of these pollutants. The rate of defect is a staggering 14 per 1,000 births.
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What the scientists found in the placenta tissue of pregnant women added further evidence to their theory.
At birth, the scientists found several types of persistent organic pollutants in the placenta tissue, in addition to 10 types of PAHs, multiple types of organochloride pesticides, and 2 types of the pesticide DDT and a number of DTT metabolites.
Many environmental pollutants, despite being banned many years ago, are still affecting newborn children in developing and developed nations. As the usage of pesticides and genetically-enhanced weed killer accelerates, even more pollutants are unleashed on pregnant women and subsequently their developing fetuses. According to the authors of the study, these pollutants will lead to 50% of all future newborns being born with a defect unless something is done to control the pervasive nature of these harmful pollutants.
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