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News | Wednesday, 26 May 2010 Issue. 165

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Experts cautious on link between power station and Marsa miscarriages

But pollutants do increase risk of miscarriage or birth defects – Gynaecologists

Gynaecologists have reacted with caution to Illum’s front page story last Sunday where it was reported that the rate of miscarriages is four times higher in the Marsa area than in other parts of the country which are not close to the old power station.
The study was quoted by Dr Chris Fearne, a paediatrician who was highly critical of government’s choice to opt for Heavy Fuel Oil to power the Delimara plant extension, when such studies appeared to prove that the rate of pathologies was dramatically higher in the Marsa area
Speaking to Malta Today, gynaecologist Dr George Buttigieg said that it would be hasty to draw conclusions that the rate of miscarriages is linked to the emissions coming from the old power station, adding however that such statistics ‘cannot be ignored’.
“I would keep an open mind on such correlations, although if there is significant statistical evidence that a higher rate of miscarriages is prevalent in the Marsa area, this cannot be ignored. Additionally it is a known fact that the Marsa power station emits pollutants into the air so the increase in miscarriages could be linked to the power station, but one has to be doubly sure when making such correlations and not rely on simple assumptions”.
Another gynaecologist, Dr Marc Sant said that it is rather difficult to make a correlation between the power station emissions and increased miscarriages principally due to the fact that the rate of miscarriages was in itself rather high.
“The normal rate of miscarriages is roughly one for every five pregnancies, so it would be difficult to establish a direct correlation with the situation in the Marsa area and the rate of miscarriages there. But it has to be said that increased pollutants in the air obviously have a link to increased incidents of diseases such as cancer, etc. Still, it is quite hard to make a direct link”.
Contacted for comments, a Ministry of Health spokesperson said that they would not be commenting until they could see the actual report and study the findings.
“Since we do not have access to Dr Fearne’s study we cannot comment on the article published. Our research team would be very willing to go through the said study and work with the authors on any additional analyses required, should a copy be forwarded to us,” was the ministry’s reply.
However it is also known that miscarriages are not the only problem which can be caused by exposure to pollution. There is also the possibility of congenital disorders or birth defects which are loosely linked to pollution exposure
Congenital disorders (birth defects) vary widely in causation and abnormalities. Any substance that causes birth defects is known as a teratogen. Environmental pollution can in principle cause congenital anomalies through preconceptional mutagenic action (maternal or paternal), or postconceptional teratogenic action (maternal only).
Speaking to Malta Today, family doctor Etienne Grech explained that there are relatively few environmental pollution exposures for which we can draw strong conclusions on the potential to causes congenital anomalies. However there are studies which are relatively close to the mark in their conclusions.
“A study in Malta titled ‘the risk of congenital abnormalities near potentially hazardous sites in Malta’ showed the incidence of babies with birth defects born to mothers living within three kilometres of the Maghtab landfill is increased , when compared to those residing further away. The risk was 1.74 times higher for mothers residing within two kilometres of the Maghtab landfill site,” Grech explained.
Another study on the geographical distribution of congenital anomalies in Malta and Gozo (between 1993-2004) showed an increased prevalence of hypoplastic left heart in the South Eastern Region and to a lesser extent omphalocele in the Western Region of Malta.



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