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Shanxi has top birth-defect rate

THE northern Shanxi Province has the highest rate of birth defects of mainland provinces, state television said.

Many infants born in the province had defects, such as cleft lips, spina bifida, fluid on the brain and heart deformities, which could be linked to environmental pollution or local residents' poor diet and vitamin intake, China Central Television reported over the weekend.

China's average rates of birth defects and neural tube defects were 99.62 per 10,000 and 23.96 per 10,000 respectively, but in Shanxi in 1997 the rates were 189.96 per 10,000 and 102.27 per 10,000.

Shanxi Province contains about one-third of China's known coal deposits, has many coal-fired power stations and has much chemical and metal production.

Agriculture in Shanxi is limited by its arid climate and lack of water so local residents mainly live on wheat, maize and potatoes, which are not rich in vitamins.

The report showed a 100-day infant with a cleft upper lip who cried because she couldn't breast-feed and instead had to be fed budget formula.

A nine-month toddler was reported to have a lump under her scalp from fluid on the brain.

The toddler's mother had never been to school as she suffered spina bifida - incomplete closure of the spinal column.

In another village, a three-year-old boy's heart was growing on the wrong side. He also had a pigeon chest and malnutrition.

In a hospital in Shanxi's Zuoquan County, ultrasound tests showed four of the 23 pregnant women registered between April and June were carrying babies with defects.

But after more than a decade of efforts, Shanxi's rate of birth defects had dropped to 112.30 per 10,000 in 2008 while the neural tube defects rate was only 19.82 per 10,000, and the figures are still declining, according to the report.

Peking University professor Pan Xiaochuan said there were no confirmed links between coal mine pollution and birth defects, but the health department is increasing its research in the field.

Local authorities have shut down more than 10,000 small coal mines since 2005 and planned to close thousands more by next year.


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