New study heightens fears over sites used for landfill

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People who live near certain landfill sites run an increased risk of having babies with conditions such as Down's syndrome, according to a study published yesterday.

Green campaigners called for immediate action to stop toxic waste going into landfill sites after the study, published in The Lancet, showed that people who lived within 3km (1.9 miles) of 23 sites that take hazardous waste were 40 per cent more likely to have a child with chromosomal abnormality.

The Eurohazcon study followed a 1998 analysis of the sites, located across Europe including Essex, Merseyside and Glasgow, which reported a 33 per cent increased risk of non-chromosomal birth defects such as spina bifida.

A third study at Imperial College, London, last year found that the risk of all types of birth defects increased by 7 per cent within 2km of hazardous-waste sites in Britain. There are thousands of landfill sites in the UK, but only about 300 take toxic waste.

Friends of the Earth said that the findings required immediate action. "This study adds to our fears for babies being born near toxic landfill sites," said Mike Childs, its industry and pollution campaigner. "The Government must reduce the amount of toxic waste going to landfill by increasing the landfill tax and setting a higher rate for hazardous waste."

The Department of Health said the risks revealed by the study could be explained by factors other than toxic waste. In a statement, it said: "Further research is needed, and work on the exposure of residents near landfill sites is under way as part of the Government's programme of work on landfill sites and health."

The Eurohazcon study, led by Dr Martine Vrijheid at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, looked at 245 cases of chromosomal abnormality and 2,412 healthy individuals in five countries.