ir pollution caused by war may be a major factor in the numbers of birth defects and cancers being reported in Iraq and other war zones, a study has suggested.
Human exposure to heavy metals and neurotoxicants from the explosion of bombs, bullets, and other ammunition affects not only those directly targeted by bombardments but also troops and people living near military bases, according to research published in the scientific journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment.
Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an Iranian toxicologist and lead author of the report, said “alarming” levels of lead were found in the “baby” or “deciduous” teeth of Iraqi children with birth defects, compared with similar teeth donated from Lebanese and Iranian children.
“Deciduous teeth from Iraqi children with birth defects had remarkably higher levels of Pb [lead],” she said during a recent visit to London. “Two Iraqi teeth had four times more Pb, and one tooth had as much as 50 times more Pb than samples from Lebanon and Iran.”
The study is important, because there has been scant research on how years of warfare across the Middle East have impacted local civilian populations, and data is hard to collect.
However, the few investigations that have been conducted suggest sharp increases in congenital birth defects, premature births, miscarriages and leukaemia cases in Iraq and other war zones, a finding supported by interviews with doctors.
The study supports claims that the long-term health of many thousands of former US soldiers was devastated by air pollution caused by the unregulated burning of huge volumes of military waste in hundreds of open air “burn pits” during the Iraq war.
More than 85,000 US Iraq war veterans who have signed a government register have been diagnosed with respiratory and breathing problems, cancers, neurological diseases, depression and emphysema since returning from Iraq. About half have stated that they were exposed to the burn pits.
The toll among soldiers has been documented in testimonies given to the US Department of Veterans Affairs and in a new book, The Burn Pits, based on interviews with 500 veterans exposed to pollution. They record how foam, electronics, metal cans, rubber tyres, ammunition, explosives, human faeces, animal carcasses, batteries, asbestos insulation and heavy metal waste were doused in jet fuel and set on fire during the Iraq war.