Neural tube birth defects occur at 400% the national rate near Hanford nuclear site

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(NaturalNews) Experts are still claiming to have no idea what's causing an increase in neural tube birth defects throughout central Washington, at a rate that's much higher than in the rest of the country.

Since 2010, more than 30 babies have been diagnosed with anencephaly, a "nightmarish neural tube defect in which the fetus does not develop a forebrain, and the rest of the brain is not covered by skin or bone."

Most babies plagued with this horrid condition either die in the womb or survive for only minutes after birth.

The anencephaly cases are occurring in a three-county area in central Washington, including Yakima, Benton and Franklin. This particular region is known for being a major agricultural hub, producing cherries, grapes, apples, potatoes and wheat, all cultivated with pesticides containing nitrates.

Also, the Hanford nuclear site occupies a vast area of land near this region.

Hanford, a highly classified nuclear weapons development site responsible for developing the plutonium for the bombs that incinerated tens of thousands of Japanese during WWII, is now the most toxic nuclear waste site in the Western Hemisphere.

Despite the last reactor being shut down in 1987, the facility still maintains solid and liquid radioactive waste, and faces the crisis of 67 known underground storage tanks that are leaking radioactive sludge into the soil.

Officials are expected to clean up the 56 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste by 2047, but the $120 billion job has been stalled due to costs, the dangerousness of the task and the vastness of the site.

Neural development disorders four times the national average

In addition to anencephaly, a rising number of pregnant women in this particular region have been affected by spina bifida, a birth defect in which the neural tube fails to close properly, leaving the brain and spine exposed.

Currently, central Washington is seeing 8.7 cases of anencephaly per 10,000 births, compared with the national average of only 2.1 cases per the same sample population.

Health officials, scientists and other experts said they couldn't find a common link to explain the rise in severe birth defects, which were first noticed back in January 2012 by a nurse in charge of infection control and quality assurance at a 25-bed medical center in a farm town located on the Yakima River.

Sara Barron, a 30-year veteran nurse, had only seen one or two cases throughout her career, until two cases occurred within a six-month period at Prosser Memorial Hospital.

After the hospital failed to react, Barron notified state health officials, who opened an investigation. Researchers say they examined the records of 27 women affected by the birth defects, reviewing where the women worked, what diseases they had, what kind of water they drank and which medications they took.

They also looked at socioeconomic status, geographic location, race and whether the problem was more severe in migrant farm workers compared with other residents, and reportedly found "no common exposures, conditions or causes" to explain the spike in birth defects.

"No statistically significant differences were identified between cases and controls, and a clear cause of the elevated prevalence of anencephaly was not determined," said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In fact, CDC officials alleged that the spike was just a coincidence, or "a statistical anomaly" that would hopefully go away.

However, contrastingly, some did find a link.

For example, an article published in Environmental Health Perspectives documented a direct correlation between the occurrence of anencephaly and pesticide exposure.

Experts with the Oregon Hanford Cleanup Board acknowledge the health effects associated with radiation leaking into groundwater, contaminating rivers and eventually the public's water supply.

"It gets into the organisms, like fish we that we eat, and so it would essentially degrade the health of the river, and be at some point, a threat to human health," said Dr. John Howieson, Vice Chair of the Oregon Hanford Cleanup Board.

If you're worried about possible health effects from radioactive isotopes, you may benefit by checking out

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