Haifa babies born with smaller heads, likely due to pollution

Haifa's oil refineries. Credit: David Shinbone via Wikimedia Commons.

(JNS.org) Data from a study commissioned by the Haifa Municipal Association shows that Israeli babies born in or near Haifa are being exposed to higher levels of pollution, and are born with lower than average weight and head circumference measurements. Such babies’ measurements are 20 to 30 percent lower than those of babies born elsewhere in Israel.

The Haifa Bay area houses several oil refineries, power plants and other chemical plants along the port, all of which are known to cause pollution in the city. The study also showed that several towns on the outskirts of Haifa – Kiryat Haim, Kiryat Bialik, and southeast Kiryat Tivon – as well as the side of the Carmel Mountain facing the city’s industrial zone, show lung cancer and lymphoma frequency rates of up to five times Israel’s national average.

The findings were determined by looking at wind direction and determining how volatile organic compounds carried from the city’s factories might be causing the high morbidity rate.

“Even in the short term, low birth weight is a risk factor for death soon after birth and prenatal complications and even until old age, with diabetes and hypertension. There are also respiratory problems like asthma and cognitive problems such as decreased IQ," said Dr. Hagai Levin, head of the health and environment discipline at the School of Public Health at the Hebrew University, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

This study is not the first to show similar findings. Data collected last year showed that 30 to 60 percent of cancer cases among Haifa children up to the age of 14 were caused by air pollution. 

The mayor of Haifa, Yona Yahav, said he was surprised Israeli government officials have voted in favor of expanding Haifa’s oil refineries, and that Israeli courts have ordered to reopen those refineries he had personally closed.

“We are fighting 24 hours a day,” he said, the Times of Israel reported.

However, the Haifa Region Association of Towns called the report “inaccurate.”

“When there are full and corrected results, we will be happy to bring them to the public’s attention,” a spokesperson from the association said.

Posted on February 1, 2016 .