US Bombing of Iraq: The Toxic Legacy Continues

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Common Dreams

US Bombing of Iraq: The Toxic Legacy Continues

New study links heavy bombing of Falluja and Al Basrah to staggering rise in birth defects, miscarriages

by
Common Dreams staff

There has been a staggering rise in the number of birth defects in Iraq following U.S. bombardment. (photo: james_gordon_losangeles via flickr)

A new study links the U.S. bombardment of Iraq to a toxic legacy of birth defects in two of the country's heavily hit cities.

The study published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology looked at the southern city of Basra and the central city of Fallujah and found a staggering rise in miscarriages and birth defects including Anencephaly and Spina Bifida in the years following heavy bombardment of 2003 and 2004.

The authors of the study found elevated levels of mercury and lead -- "an integral part of war ammunition and are extensively used in the making of bullets and bombs," according to U.S. forces -- in the children.

The Independent adds:

Dr. [Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the lead authors of the report and an environmental toxicologist at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health] said that for the first time, there is a "footprint of metal in the population" and that there is "compelling evidence linking the staggering increases in Iraqi birth defects to neuro-toxic metal contamination following the repeated bombardments of Iraqi cities". She called the "epidemic" a "public health crisis".

"In utero exposure to pollutants can drastically change the outcome of an otherwise normal pregnancy. The metal levels we see in the Fallujah children with birth defects clearly indicates that metals were involved in manifestation of birth defects in these children," she said. "The massive and repeated bombardment of these cities is clearly implicated here. I have no knowledge of any alternative source of metal contamination in these areas." She added that the data was likely to be an "underestimate", as many parents who give birth to children with defects hide them from public view.

Professor Alastair Hay, a professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University, said the figures presented in the study were "absolutely extraordinary". He added: "People here would be worried if there was a five or 10 per cent increase [in birth defects]. If there's a fivefold increase in Fallujah, no one could possibly ignore that; it's crying out for an explanation as to what's the cause. A rapid increase in exposure to lead and mercury seems reasonable if lots of ammunition is going off. I would have also thought a major factor would be the extreme stress people are under in that period; we know this can cause major physiological changes."

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