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anencephaly
cleft lip
cleft palate
conotruncal heart defects
exposure
neural tube defect
spina bifida

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environmental exposures and risk factors

Does living near a Superfund siteshazardous waste sites included on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priority List for cleanupraise the risk for birth defects?

To answer this question in 3 common conditions, the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program interviewed over 2000 mothers, calculating distances from their homes to hazardous waste sites.

VERY CLOSE RESIDENCE RAISES RISK

Women who lived within 1/4 mile of a Superfund site during the first 3 months of pregnancy had a greater risk for having babies with certain birth defects:

bullet Conotruncal heart defects, a group of serious heart defects, were 4 times as likely (increasing from 1/1000 to 1/ 250 babies).
bullet Neural tube defectsspina bifida and anencephalywere 2 times as likely (increasing from 1/1000 to 1/ 500 babies).
bullet Cleft lip and cleft palate occurred no more frequently than expected.

Women who lived farther than 1/4 mile from sites showed no higher risk.

ONLY A SMALL NUMBER OF FAMILIES AFFECTED

bullet Only 0.6% of the mothers interviewed lived within 1/4 mile of a Superfund site. About half of these women lived on military bases
bullet Hazardous waste sites were a possible factor in only a few birth defects cases: 8 of the 507 babies with neural tube defects and 3 of the 201 babies with heart defects.

IMPLICATIONS

bullet Although the small number of cases around hazardous waste sites means the findings don't have strong statistical power, they do support earlier research suggesting higher risk.
bullet Study findingshigher risk for certain birth defects among those living within 1/4 mile of Superfund sitesare relevant as communities plan to develop or re-use these sites.
bullet A central problem in studying hazardous waste sites is defining exposure. A woman living near a site may not actually have contact with its contentsairborne contamination diffuses rapidly as it travels from its source; groundwater contamination may never reach drinking water supplies. Further studies are not likely to yield more definitive answers unless they can incorporate direct exposure measures.

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bullet 105 of the 1430 hazardous waste sites on the US Environmental Protection Agency's National Priority List for cleanup (Superfund sites) are located in California.
bullet Sites include inactive pesticide and chemical manufacturing plants, wood processing facilities, drum storage sites, contaminated groundwater areas, sanitary landfills and mines.
bullet Military bases make up 20% of California's Superfund sites.

RELATED LINKS
For more information on hazardous waste:
bullet Environmental Protection Agency
bullet Superfund Sites
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