New Fears over Health Impacts of Landfills

LONDON, United Kingdom, August 16, 2001 (ENS) - British politicians and environmental groups today called for urgent action to reduce waste landfilling and increase recycling following release of an epidemiological study showing an excess of birth defects in populations living close to landfills.

Commissioned by the government, the study compares the rate of several congenital abnormalities and the prevelance of stillbirths and low and very low birthweights for individuals living within two kilometres of landfill sites with those beyond two kilometers. The former group accounts for 80 percent of the UK population.


More landfills are expected in the UK to deal with the country's growing waste mountain. (Photo courtesy Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions)
The study reports a one percent higher risk for individuals living close to landfills, though the figure varies from +19 to -4 percent for specific abnormalities. The excess risk for low and very low birthweight is put at five percent. No excess risks are suggested for stillbirths or cancers.

The project is the largest study of its kind ever carried out and was designed to build on European research published in 1998 which suggested a one-third increase in risk of abnormalities in babies living within three kilometers (two miles) of landfills.

Responding to the new findings today, the UK government and its scientific advisors stressed that the results were inconclusive and denied any evidence of significant health risks from living close to landfills. Further research is underway, said deputy chief medical officer Pat Troop.

The study's authors themselves accept that their findings do not prove health risks. In the absence of any data on landfill emissions, the research shows only associations and cannot demonstrate causal links.

Confounding factors such as lifestyle and occupation cannot be ruled out, though the researchers attempted to allow for generally higher levels of social deprivation in populations living close to landfills.

The full text of the study was released today by the UK health ministry. A peer reviewed version appears in tomorrow's issue of the "British Medical Journal."


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