1 Million Birth Defects

September 13, 2007 - by Pauline Law

The amount of birth defects in China is on the rise. As a front-page China Daily states, at least one million babies with birth defects are born per year, at an incidence rate of 60 out of 1000. As Professor Li Zhu notes, "The rate is three times that of developed countries." The article heavily emphasizes that this increase can be attributed to a rising preference for later childbirth among urban couples.

The story gives merely a passing nod to the risk of defects due to "exposure to health hazardous pollutants," which seems like a more reasonable explanation of the significant differential between China's birth defect rate and those of developing countries. After all, according to a BBC report pregnant women who have been exposed to high levels of ozone and carbon monoxide can increase their child's risk of birth defects up to three times and the health problems that air pollution can cause are not only limited to respiratory-related issues.

Even rural dwellers are not safe from the risk of birth defects. Many of the most heavily polluting factories are located in rural areas, releasing carcinogens and other pollutants in the air and waterways. As Foreign Policy in Focus reports, "one survey in eastern Jiangsu Province found mercury, lead, and cadmium present in 41% of the local fish," which are all linked to cancer, birth defects, and child development issues. The problems caused by pollution are exacerbated by a lack of adequate health care and education concerning health care and nutrition.

China's environmental quality continues to degrade, and as a result, the health of even the youngest members of society is suffering. As a young American woman living in Beijing, I'm lucky to have the choice of returning to the relatively cleaner environment of the United States when I decide to start a family. Unfortunately, more than a billion others around me don't have that option, and if China waits too long to clean up, I may not be able to find cleaner food and air in the United States either.

1 Comment

  • 1. Iris  |  September 13, 2007, 3:51 pm

    however,china is develop so fast,inscrutable!

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