Last Updated: Sun Oct 14, 2012 20:45 pm (KSA) 17:45 pm (GMT)

Study shows high number of birth defects in bombarded Iraqi cities

The study published in the Environmental Contamination and Toxicology Bulletin correlates defects and abnormalities of Iraqi children and their exposure to metals released by bombs and bullets. (AFP)
The study published in the Environmental Contamination and Toxicology Bulletin correlates defects and abnormalities of Iraqi children and their exposure to metals released by bombs and bullets. (AFP)

A new study released by a group of scientists, specializing in toxicology, supports claims that United States and NATO weapons used against Iraq in 2003 have led to health crises in the country, The Independent newspaper reported on Sunday.

The findings, published in the Environmental Contamination and Toxicology Bulletin, show the rise of birth defects among Iraqi infants in the cities of al-Basra and Fallujah.

The authors of the report correlate defects and abnormalities with the exposure to metals released by bombs and bullets.

The “Metal contamination and the epidemic of congenital birth defects in Iraqi cities,” investigation was initiated in 2010 when 56 families from Fallujah were asked to answer a questionnaire. Results from Basra city were collected from the Department of obstetrics and gynecology at Basra maternity hospital.

Hair samples, taken from residents in Fallujah who had lived there since 1991, were found to contain trace elements of poisonous metals, the report stated.

Findings showed that levels of lead were five times higher in the hair of children with birth defects than in other children, suggesting hair is a “bio-marker of exposure.”

Mercury levels in children were also found to be six times higher, while children in Basra had three times more lead in their teeth than children living in non-affected cities.

Miscarriage, toxic levels of lead and mercury contamination and staggering numbers of birth defects including congenital heart defects, brain dysfunctions and abnormal limbs were recorded at a high rate, posing a new threat to the bombarded city of Fallujah.

Residents of Fallujah city even changed the name of their hometown from the “City of Mosque” to “The Polluted City,” reported the Independent.

One of the lead authors of the report, Mozghan Sayabieasfahani, said that there is “compelling evidence” to relate the increasing rate of birth defects and miscarriages to military assaults on Fallujah when it was bombarded in 2004 by U.S. marines.

U.S. marines first attacked Fallujah eight years ago after four employees from an American security company were killed in a grisly attack. A second attack occured seven months later. American military forces later admitted to using white phosphorus shells but never admitted to using depleted uranium during the attack, which has been associated with high rates of cancer and birth defects.

The World Health Organization is expected to publish an additional report to be released in November, it is expected to show the same results of a high increase in birth defects.

Aside from the cities of Fallujah and Basra, seven other cities are included in the forthcoming examination.

The most common abnormalities found in the children of Fallujah are congenital heart defects; 24 out of 26 children were born with the defect. As well as neural tube defects, which affect 18 out of 46 children.

The rate of malformed-born babies has risen over the years, now 37 out of every 1,000 babies are born with defects.

According to Sayabieasfahani there is a “footprint of metal in the population” an there is “compelling evidence linking the staggering increases in Iraqi birth defects to neuro-toxic metal contamination following the repeated bombardments of Iraqi cities.”

She described the “epidemic” as a “public health crisis.”

She added that, “in utero exposure to pollutants can drastically change the outcome of an otherwise normal pregnancy. The metal levels we see in the Fallujah children with birth defects clearly indicate that metals were involved in manifestation of birth defects in these children. The massive and repeated bombardment of these cities is clearly implicated here. I have no knowledge of any alternative source of metal contamination in these areas.”

However, a U.S. Defense Department spokesperson said to the Independent newspaper; “we are not aware of any official reports indicating an increase in birth defects in Basrah or Fallujah that may be related to exposure to the metals contained in munitions used by the U.S. or coalition partners. We always take very seriously public health concerns about any population now living in a combat theatre. Unexploded ordnance, including improvised explosive devises, is a recognized hazard.”

Meanwhile, a UK government spokesperson made a comment on the study saying that there was no “reliable scientific or medical evidence to confirm a link between conventional ammunition and birth defects in Basra.” Further adding that, “all ammunitions used by UK armed forces falls within international humanitarian law and is consistent with the Geneva convention.”

Sayabieasfahani added that the data gathered was likely to be an “underestimate” since many parents hide their children with defects and abnormalities from public view, leaving a number of cases unrecorded.

Further studies are yet to be conducted in order to trace the presence of depleted uranium in the children of both Basra and Fallujah. However, such projects need funding, “we need extensive environmental sampling of food, water and air to find out where this is coming from, then we can clean it up. Now we are seeing 50 percent of children being born with malformations; in a few years it could be everyone,” the doctor added.

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