TEL AVIV – Babies born in polluted areas of the northern Israeli town of Haifa have heads which measure between 20-30% less than those born in non-polluted areas, according to a major study by Haifa University.
The study, which was commissioned by the Haifa Municipal Association and funded by local refineries and the electric company in a bid to extend their operations, also found that the rates of lung cancer and lymphoma in affected areas were up to five times the national average.
Dr. Hagai Levin, head of the health and environment discipline at the School of Public Health at the Hebrew University, said that “even in the short term, low birth weight is a risk factor for death soon after birth and prenatal complications and even until old age, with diabetes and hypertension. There are also respiratory problems like asthma and cognitive problems such as decreased IQ.
“The data on which this study is based on are from 2012 to the present. In other words, the fact that recently babies were born with low weight and with small head circumference is evidence that air pollution has not decreased as representatives of the Ministry of Environmental Protection claimed,” added Dr. Levin.
Cancer rates in children in the Haifa area are much higher than the rest of the country. Nearly one in five residents of Haifa aged 65-74 have been diagnosed with cancer. According to the head of the Ministry of Public Health Services, Professor Itamar Grotto, the higher risk of getting cancer for Haifa residents cannot be attributed to smoking as the smoking rates in the Haifa area are not higher than elsewhere.
Professor Itamar Grotto also stated that for children aged 0-14, an estimated 30 out of 60 cases of cancer in the Haifa area were caused by air pollution. However, another study which examined cancer rates among 4,255 children and teenagers up to the age of 19 between 1998-2007, found that although the incidence of cancer among children in the Haifa District is higher than the national average, the findings were not statistically significant.
According to a report by Israel’s Channel 2, the Haifa Municipality tried to thwart the publication of Haifa University’s study.