CORPUS CHRISTI: New study reaffirming high birth defect rate given to feds for follow-up
A new study reaffirming a higher rate of
birth defects in the area has been handed to a federal agency to investigate
whether refineries and chemical plants have played a role.
The follow-up study, released in December,
found that birth defects are higher in Corpus Christi compared to the state
even after the state researcher controlled for characteristics such as age,
race and ethnicity that can sway the rates. Similar studies in the past also
have found high birth defect rates in the area.
While this study is more comprehensive than
ones in the past, the study can't say that elevated rates of birth defects are
caused by local industries. That's because other risk factors for birth
defects, such as diabetes and poverty, can't be ruled out, said Peter Langlois,
a senior epidemiologist for the birth defects epidemiology and surveillance
branch of the Department of State Health Services.
Instead, Langlois identified 63 elevated
birth defects for a federal agency to explore whether potential links exist between
these and local industry. While some of the elevated birth defects have been
scientifically tied to chemicals released by chemical plants and refineries —
solvents such as benzene are known to cause spina bifida, a birth defect in
which the spinal cord, or its coverings, do not completely develop — these
birth defects also are elevated among babies born to mothers who are poor,
minorities, or have diabetes or other health complications.
Officials with the federal Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry could not immediately be reached for comment
At the request of the area residents
concerned about their health, the federal agency has been conducting a public
health assessment about industry's potential effect on the health of residents
living in Refinery Row, or the fence-line neighborhoods of Dona Park and
Hilcrest near the petroleum refineries.
The agency announced in January that it had
found no evidence of widespread exposure to cancer-causing benzene and other
volatile organic compounds in the air, or in blood and urine samples collected
from refinery row residents.
Environmental activist Suzie Canales, who has
criticized the federal blood, urine and air study for being too narrow, said
she wants a more extensive study on the heels of Langlois' December study.
While the study stops short of determining a cause, it's clear that Corpus
Christi has a problem with birth defects, she said.
"This should be a wake-up call for all
of us," Canales said.
She said she wants researchers to interview
families and draw cord blood from a sample set of babies across the region to
more accurately gauge a possible connection between birth defects and
Canales has requested support from elected
officials, including state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
His staff said they have received a copy of
the study but have not yet moved forward with it.
"It's in the beginning stages right
now," said media relations coordinator Daniela Santoni.
Langlois looked at nine years' worth of data
and found that birth defects were 74 percent higher in the three-county region
of Nueces, San Patricio and Kleberg counties than in the rest of the state. He
also compared the Corpus Christi region against other counties in the
Children's Outreach Heart Program, where children are regularly screened for
cardiovascular birth defects and found birth defects to be 75 percent higher.
Severe birth defects, or cases in which the
baby died or required surgery, were 39 percent higher in the area than statewide,
He said that, while he was able to control
from some risk factors, he was unable to accurately determine other risk
factors that could influence results, such as mothers' income levels or how
many had diabetes, which is commonly underreported on birth certificates, he