Pollution and CHDs: Another Link

Congenital Heart Defect occurrence in Mainland China has quadrupled in the last twenty years, medical experts are saying. Since 1996, the number of CHDs rose from 6.2 children per 10,000 live births to a heartbreaking (pun not intended) 25.1 children per 10,000 live births. They still haven’t caught the United States, which has 80 CHD children per 10,000 lives births, if my math is correct.

So what’s going on? A look into China’s recent history and economic policy gives us a clue: China has been ramping up its industrial base, and they haven’t been really concerned about pollution until recently.

As many Funky Heart readers know, I used to work at a small agricultural museum. We had access to reports about the cotton industry and would work the information into the tour if it were applicable.

“Look at this,” I said one day as I read the latest report. “China has tripled the number of acres they are using to grow cotton.”

“Look for gas prices to go up next year,” our boss said. “They’ll need to build at least fifty new mills to process all that cotton, and they’ll need fuel to power them.”

I hadn’t thought of that angle, but he was right. And an unintended side effect of those new mills was a huge jump in pollution – a cotton mill is not always a clean operation. And now, they’re seeing other unintended results: a rise in all birth defects, but Heart Defects in particular.

Cotton processing, as far as I know, does not contribute to birth defects more or less than any other industry – it just happens to be the example I am familiar with.

As has been noted before, no one is sure if CHDs are caused by environment, genetics, or a combination of both. But if the rise in pollution and the rise in heart defects are roughly equal, it gives a lot more weight to the environmental factor side of the equation.

China is currently producing almost four times as much carbon waste as the United States. But this does not bode well for us, either, as they point out that per capita, we produce more. And you have to give them credit for trying: Water pollution is down, and some Chinese executives are going to pay a heavy price for dumping arsenic into a lake. But their cotton mill use is expected to be up.

Yet there is all that pollution, and all those birth defects, that must be dealt with. The Chinese people will continue to pay with their lives… and if we aren’t careful, so could we.

I’m not an Environmentalist, but it makes sense to clean up every so often;


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