China’s Human Canaries in the Coal Mine

Pesticides and pollutants are related to a 450 percent increase in the risk of spina bifida and anencephaly in rural China, according to scientists at The University of Texas at Austin and Peking University, as reported on Science Daily.

Their study, published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the result of a more than decade-long collaboration between Richard Finnell, professor of nutritional sciences and director of genomic research at the Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, and a team of researchers in Shanxi, a province in northern China that mines and burns a lot of coal — and has a high prevalence of neural tube defects. The researchers screened placentas of affected babies and stillborns and found high levels of  persistant organic pollutants (POPs). These compounds, says Finnell, “cause cell death” and are evidence that these pollutants are related to an increase in birth defects.


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