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New study finds strong correlation between Gaza birth defects and exposure to white phosphorus

A new scientific study claims that there is "a strong correlation of birth defects in new-borns and parents' exposure to attacks with white phosphorus" in the Gaza Strip. At the registration of the birth of their children, 27 per cent of Palestinian parents in Gaza whose babies have birth defects declared exposure to white phosphorus; only 1.7 per cent of parents with normal children made the same declaration.

The report, entitled "Birth Defects in Gaza: Prevalence, Types, Familiarity and Correlation with Environmental Factors"", has been published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and was carried out by a team of Palestinian and Italian researchers at the Al-Shifa Hospital, where 28 per cent of all births in the Gaza Strip take place.

This is the first report of registration at birth and the incidence of major structural birth defects obtained in Gaza. In five months there were 4,027 deliveries, with a protocol comprehensive of clinical, demographic, kin and environmental questions: 55 birth defects, 94 late miscarriages, and 30 still-born deliveries have been recorded in the period May-September 2011. None of the pregnancies here registered occurred during the major war events when the white phosphorus and bombs were used.

The study finds that the prevalence of major structural birth defects in the Gaza Strip is 14/1,000. Within the limits due to differences in diagnostic levels, dimension of samples and methodologies, this is slightly higher than that of less industrialised countries in the area (8-11/1,000) and lower than that reported for the more industrialised US (30/1000) and Europe (23/1,000).

The team conducted this study because of the presence of teratogen elements in the post-war environment was expected in Gaza after Operation Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009). A group of scientists including some of those in this team had found previously proof of the principles of their presence in victims' wounds in a study published in January, 20101 and in children's hair.2 The kind of metals detected in the wounds and hair have low mutagen but high teratogen and carcinogen potentials, cannot be eliminated from the environment and are capable of acting as metalloestrogens affecting multiple cellular pathways during embryo and foetal development.

"Before being conclusive on the specific elements in these weaponry that may cause such effects, analysis of contamination by war-related toxicants needs to be done on the specific subjects," said the scientists. "Metal load – the experts say – in living organisms is cumulative, and its effects, if any, show over time. We here investigated if there are long term effects on reproductive health that can be associated to cumulative, chronic exposures due to documented weapons' targeted environment."

Statements of residents about locations where they would have been exposed to white phosphorus and bombing have found correspondence with maps from the UN's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) and data from UNSCO (United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, formerly known as the United Nations Special Coordinator) and UN Mine Action Team Gaza.

About New Weapons Research Group

New Weapons Committee is a group of academics, researchers and media professionals focused on promoting risk assessment surveys on the effects upon individuals and population of the most recent kinds of weapons used in the course of wars. The group was born in the third quarter of 2006 after the Israel-Lebanon conflict.

Within a week of the beginning of the war between Israel and Lebanon on July 12, 2006, doctors in Lebanon and in Gaza denounced weapons previously unseen by medical personnel which in both cases had long experience of emergency medicine in warfare situation. The question that reached us was: "We never saw before wounds and corpses like those that arrived in the ward. What are these new weapons that cause such wounding and horrible deaths? Help us to find out what to do for the people." The large majority of victims were women, children and elders, in both locations, as a direct consequence of the attacks on housing, markets, streets and communication roads and of the use of largely excessive force.

New Weapons' work is mostly concerned with researching and analysing reports and data to understand the agents utilised in the war and to promote risk assessment surveys for the long-term effects on individuals and population, in order to know how to cure and protect survivors by medical and predictive studies. This implies actions at different levels and at different times and for different lengths of time, and multiple professional actors and methodologies: information collection and information verification, survey, analysis and elaboration of data, and research projects. All are done to share all the tasks with concerned local partners, providing the results to tribunals, information sources and for medical follow up.

Fabio De Ponte
Website: www.newweapons.org
Email: [email protected]

1. Skaik S, Abu-Shaban N, Abu-Shaban N, Barbieri M, Barbieri M, Giani U, Manduca P..Metals detected by ICP/MS in wound tissue of war injuries without fragments in Gaza. BMC Int Health Hum Rights. 2010 June 25th (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20579349).
2. See Metals detected in Palestinian children's hair suggest environmental contamination, march 17th, 2010 (http://www.newweapons.org/?q=node/112).

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