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"Defect Detect" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Study links pollutants to a 450 percent increase in risk of birth defects.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Here's to Healthier Babies.

(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

We've suspected for a while that pollutants and pesticides are related to an increase in birth defects but finding hard evidence has been tough. Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin and Peking University have completed a decade-long study that shows evidence that certain environmental pollutants are indeed linked to birth defects.

They selected a province in China for the study because of its high incidence of neural tube defects not as common in the U.S. It was also a chance to assist the chinese government in their efforts to lower the rate of birth defects.

Researchers analyzed placentas from 80 newborn and stillborn babies with neural tube defects such as spina bifida or anencephaly.

The team found an alarming 450 percent increase in the risk of these two conditions in placentas that contained compounds found in pesticides such as endosulfan and lindane or bi-products of coal and oil burning. The two pesticides I mentioned are either being phased out or banned in the U.S.

This is one of the first studies to provide evidence that pollutants don't mix with pregnancy. It also might help determine whether environmental pollutants contribute to other congenital conditions such as autism.

For future generations of healthy babies, it's a good first step.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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