(NaturalNews) As China continues to industrialize its way out of oppressive communism, the nation's children and babies are paying the price with their health. A new study out of the University of South Carolina has found that pollution in developing countries like China and India is becoming so severe that many babies are being born underweight or with birth defects, or are being born prematurely.
China is particularly notorious for its pollution, with images of Chinese cities blanketed with soot and smog appearing in the media from time to time. As it turns out, this chemical layer is associated with a 250 percent increase in preterm births and a 200 percent increase in low birth weights. Overall, 7 percent of China's babies are born early and 6 percent are born at 5.5 pounds or less, according to the data.
"Their cities are in big trouble and so are their babies," stated Richard Finnell, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin, as quoted by Environmental Health News. Prof. Finnell has previously studied birth defects in northern China.
China has highest levels of fine particulate pollution
Based on scientific assessments, China currently has the highest particle pollution levels of any country in the world. The Yale University Environmental Performance Measurement ranks the country number one in fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, which we previously reported is highly toxic to humans. PM2.5 levels in Beijing, China's capital, routinely measure up to 800 percent higher than the World Health Organization's (WHO) maximum levels for safety.
For the new study, the team compared the prevalence of birth events in China to that of other countries. They looked specifically at the transfer of folic acid from mother to child, a process that is inhibited by exposure to air pollutants. When high levels of pollution were present, researchers observed an elevated immune response in pregnant mothers, resulting in the high production of antibodies.
Compared to the country's rural areas, China's cities fared the worst in terms of birth events. Rates of birth defects, for instance, were found to be doubled in cities compared to the country. Neural tube defects were also much more prominent in Chinese cities, with rates of spina bifida topping 13 per 1,000 births, which is 1,300 percent higher than that observed in the U.S.
Most of China's electricity comes from the burning of toxic coal
Pollution levels are also increasing in many areas of China. In China's Shanxi Province, for instance, coal mining and steel production have increased dramatically in recent years, with more than 300 million tons of coal being produced annually. From this comes the heavy release of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs), which have been linked to causing cancer.
Indoor air pollution is also problematic, and perhaps even worse than outdoor air pollution. According to the data, some 3 million people in developing countries like China and India cook indoors, as well as heat their homes with polluting fuel sources like charcoal, biomass and kerosene. As a result, pregnant mothers are being exposed to a host of chemicals that are altering hormones and disrupting blood flow to the placenta.
"Most of the air pollution monitoring is in Western Europe and America," said Angela Hsu, a project manager from Yale's Environmental Performance Measurement Program, noting that 85 percent of the energy produced and consumed in China comes from the burning of coal. "We need better ground level data, because that's where the people are breathing in the pollution."