A five-year study on the part of a group of doctors in Jiangsu has established that atmospheric pollution produces one tenth of congenital birth defects; 50% of the remaining cases can also be attributed to environmental problems. The group that studied the phenomenon was led by Dr. Hu Yali, of Nanjing University.
From 2001-2006, birth defects increased by 50% in China, affecting 1.2 million newborns. Dr. Hu's group studied 26,000 women who gave birth from 2001-2005 in Jangsu, which is one of the richest provinces in the country.
The most widespread defect involves heart disease, strictly connected to air pollution. This kind of defect is difficult to detect with prenatal testing.
The second defect is cleft palate, which is also related to air pollution but is easier to detect. For this reason, families often ask for an abortion as soon as it is detected, out of the fear that it could be accompanied by other birth defects.
The third most widespread defect is hydrocephalus (an excess of liquid in the brain), which according to studies is provoked by motor vehicle emissions.
"Birth defects have become the single biggest killer of mainland infants," Dr. Hu stated in Nanjing newspaper.
The percentage of birth defects in Jiangsu is relatively low (1.1%). But in poorer provinces, or more polluted areas, the number is much higher, although comprehensive studies have not yet been conducted.
In 2007, a study carried out in Taiyuan, capital of the province of Shanxi, with a large concentration of coal mines, demonstrated that an abundance of fine particles in the air is one of the leading factors in spontaneous abortion, birth defects, and infant death.
For 80% of Chinese, air and water pollution is "the greatest threat" in the country. The degradation of the environment is one of the results of the unbridled industrial development that has taken place in China over the past 30 years. In 2006, China became the most polluted country in the world, surpassing the United States.