In China, Pollution Causes Two Birth Defects a Minute: Official

02/02/2009 10:59 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We know that China's pollution isn't good for its newborns. Recently, a government official announced that birth defects are "constantly increasing," and that every 30 seconds, a baby is born with physical defects in China.

The statistic isn't new. But the official made clear something the government has long been reluctant to say: a major cause is pollution.

"The number of newborns with birth defects is constantly increasing in both urban and rural areas," Jiang Fan, vice-minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC), said at a conference in Beijing recently. "And the rather alarming increase has forced us to kick off a high-level prevention plan."

Her statements, reported quietly in Chinese media in early January -- and yesterday in translations of Western reports -- come only a few months after parents across China were rocked by concerns that much of the country's milk had been tainted with melamine, killing a slew of infants. With the tacit encouragement of big milk companies, the chemical had been added by middlemen and farmers as a protein substitute.

It's not surprising that coal-rich Shanxi province, a center of pollutant emissions from large-scale coal and chemical industries, has recorded the highest rate of birth defects.

In 2007, a study carried out in Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi, demonstrated that an abundance of fine particles in the air is one of the leading factors in spontaneous abortion, birth defects, and infant death.

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