Iraqi Birth Defects May Be Due to War with US
March 27, 2013
America’s war in Iraq officially ended in December of 2012, but the effects of military involvement there may be felt for generations in the form of severe birth defects.
A prominent nation-wide increase in congenital diseases and disorders including heart defects, spina bifida, facial clefting, and other deformities prompted Iraqi parents, doctors, and researchers to question if the rise in these medical conditions are somehow linked to the war.
"[Parents] feel desperate," Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, a reproductive toxicologist who co-authored two studies on Iraq’s rise in birth defects, told ABCNews.com.
After studying hospitals in heavily-bombed areas of Iraq like Fallujah General Hospital and Al Basrah Maternity Hospital, Savabieasfahani and her colleagues concluded that children with medical problems were born to parents who had higher levels of uranium, lead, and mercury in their hair and nails. All three of those toxins are found in weapons used during the Iraq war.
"Toxic metals such as mercury and [lead] are an integral part of war ammunition and are extensively used in the making of bullets and bombs," cites the group’s 2012 study.
The study also suggested that pregnant women and fetuses are especially susceptible to pollutant exposure. Additionally, chronic stress, like the kind one would experience in a war zone, can have a negative impact on the health and development of a fetus.
Savabieasfahani's 2010 study claims 15 percent of babies born in Fallujah, Iraq after 2003 have some form of birth defect. In contrast, 3 percent of babies born in the United States are born with a congenital condition according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, the US Department of Defense does not believe these studies provide sufficient evidence to connect the prevalence of birth defects with the military conflict.
"The studies … relied on the occurrence of conflict during specified years, and then presumed exposure of individuals to specific munitions," said department spokesperson Cynthia Smith to ABCNews.com.
"The studies have also presumed specific health effects from the claimed exposures without benefit of any scientific evidence proving the association of health effects with those exposures."
An additional study on the prevalence of birth defects in Iraq is currently being written by the Federal Ministry of Health of Iraq and the World Health Organization, and will be released this spring. Increased cancer and miscarriage rates in Iraq are also currently being investigated.