Health Canada halts birth study

By Tanya Collier MacDonald
Cape Breton Post
Monday, Aug. 1, 2003

A study aiming to identify toxic hot spots and possible links to adverse birth outcomes in Cape Breton has been halted by the federal government due to a low participation rate.

Health Canada spokesperson Tracey Taweel said scientists were unable to recruit an adequate number of pregnant women to participate which forced Health Canada to send a letter to lead scientist Henry Muggah informing him to stop the effort.

It's unclear how much data was completed during the two-year effort and no formal report has been made to Health Canada to date, she said.

Muggah could not be reached for comment.

It's been reported that the study - which was expected to cost about $450,00 - was to focus on four areas.

The first would be to determine if the incidence of adverse early-pregnancy outcomes (pre-20 weeks) is higher in the Sydney area than in an appropriate control, such as Pictou County. Scientists planned to come to this conclusion by using medical records provided by local physicians in a way keeping with patients' confidentiality.

Second, it would measure the concentrations of contaminants in pregnant women, their newborns' cord blood and the placenta, and to test for evidence of endocrine disruption and contaminant exposure.

Third, the study would assess peoples' values, perceptions and behaviours relating to fertility expectations, conception, pregnancy-out-comes, and their environment.

Fourth, the goal was to integrate and analyze the results of the study, explore implications, and evaluate from both the social and natural sciences perspectives the issue of reproductive health in the Sydney community.

A report completed in May, 1999 by Linda Dodd, Reproductive Care Program of Nova Scotia, concluded that the rate of infants born with major birth defects was 27 per cent higher in Sydney than the rest of Nova Scotia. The percentage was taken from the 3.42 per cent of infants born each year in Sydney with a major birth defect compared to 2.69 per cent of infants in the rest of the province.

Over the 10-year period of that study, there were 3,782 infants born in Sydney who did not have major birth defects and 132 born with a major anomaly - which represents about 30 more than the number based on provincial rates.

The reason for the study was to increase the amount of data available for human reproductive health when linked to peoples' exposure to multiple contaminants.

In the proposal it was reported that human reproductive health is a sensitive indicator of adverse environmental conditions.

For example, contaminant exposure has been associated with delayed times of conception, reduced sperm counts, increased miscarriage and stillbirth rates, increased incidence of congenital anomalies and low birth weights. In addition, there is significant evidence of adverse neurologic cognitive outcomes in children exposed in utero.