Contamination causing deformities in Iraq




The city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, has had a notoriously high rate of birth defects and cancer diagnoses since American, British and Iraqi troops bombarded and then stormed the town during the Sunni insurgency in 2004.

In May of 2010 alone, 15 per cent of the 547 babies born had defects, while 14 per cent were spontaneous abortions and 11 per cent were born at less than 30 weeks.

The report, published online on Friday in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, outlines the cases of four families out of more than 50 being studied. All had children with defects which could not be accounted for by historic family causes but which could be explained by high levels of toxic metals in the environment.

In one family, three women – the two wives of one of the fathers and a daughter – all gave birth to children with different deformities.

"The high prevalence of birth defects in Fallujah is impairing the population's health and its capacity to care for the surviving children," the study said. "These defects could be due to environmental contaminants which are known components of modern weaponry."

The research and a forthcoming report by the World Health Organisation on the same issue will renew international attention on the siege of Fallujah, condemned by anti-war activists and human rights campaigners as an excessive response to insurgent activity. Thousands of alleged insurgents and civilians are said to have been killed. White phosphorous and depleted uranium shells are known to have been used in large numbers. Depleted uranium in particular has been linked to high rates of cancer and birth defects.

"It is unclear whether its radiation-derived mutational effects or its chemical toxic effects are more relevant," the report notes.

Total deformities are said to be around 11 times the world average, and are rising. The report, the first carried out on births during 2010, said they were now at "unprecedented levels", suggesting that the longer adults are exposed to the residual contamination the more defective children will be born.

It says there is no definitive proof of which environmental hazards actually caused the deformities, and calls for more research in this area to identify families at high risk and begin the task of providing them with the necessary medical care.

By Richard Spencer, The Telegraph

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