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Press Release: "Birth Defect Rates in England: 1995 - 2002"

Independent report analysing unpublished ONS birth defect data.


border image Rural birth defect rate at least 39 times higher than Central London border image

One in every sixteen babies born in rural mid Devon in 2002 had at least one defect recorded by the Office of National Statistics [ONS], compared with less than 1 in 630 babies born in London’s Islington during the same year, a report published today revealed.

Michael Ryan analysed unpublished ONS birth defect data, revealing large variations in the rate of babies born with defects throughout England - suggesting the overwhelming probability of exposure to industrial PM2.5 emissions [particles small enough to enter lungs] rather than traffic.

London’s highest rate was in Bexley, where one in every 43 babies were born with defects - a rate that was at least 15 times higher than Islington, and possibly more than 60 times (see table below).

The PCTs with highest rates of babies born with defects in 2002 were:

Babies with
Rate per
1,000 births
Rate as %
of births
Rate as “1 in x” births
England average
1 in 90
Mid Devon
1 in 16
Leicester City West
1 in 18
East Devon
1 in 18
Sheffield South West
1 in 20
South Leicestershire
1 in 22
Eastern Leicestershire
1 in 22
1 in 23
North Sheffield
1 in 25
Hinckley & Bosworth
1 in 26
Charnwood & NW Leicestershire
1 in 27
North East Lincolnshire
1 in 27
Nottingham City
1 in 27
Bexley [highest in London]
1 in 43
Islington “less than 5” [actual number withheld by ONS “for confidentiality”]
if 4 babies
1 in 632
if 3 babies
1 in 842
if 2 babies
1 in 1263
if 1 baby
1 in 2526

Commenting on Michael Ryan’s research, expert toxicologist Dr Dick van Steenis MBBS said:

“It’s not difficult to explain why the rate of birth defects in Mid Devon is so much higher than central London with knowledge of the pollutants causing DNA mutations including radioactivity, organophosphate pesticides/herbicides and industrial PM2.5 emissions that residents have been exposed to containing dioxins, heavy metals and PAHs. It’s probable that PM2.5 emissions from hazardous fuels used for incineration of foot and mouth carcasses in 2001 was a contributory factor, as birth defects in dogs were noticed by Devon dog breeder Diane Irwin for the first time in over 30 years. [Sunday Telegraph article by Ross Clark, 11 January 2003]

Dr van Steenis continued: “Bexley, which has two incinerators inside the Borough - one authorised to burn radioactive waste, also receives toxic PM2.5 emissions from the Lewisham incinerator [SELCHP]. Islington is upwind of the three incinerators affecting Bexley residents and has a birth defect rate that is at least 15 times lower than Bexley.”

Dr van Steenis further explained that the same mutators of DNA from incinerators that cause birth defects and cancers will also cause asthma, diabetes 2, fatal heart attacks, premature deaths of infants, children and adults and a range of other illnesses detailed in his published reports.

Michael Ryan stated: “I’m appalled that birth defect data has been collected on government instruction since January 1964, yet nobody appears to have analysed it to identify avoidable environmental causes. It’s as though teams of civil servants at ONS and the Department of Health have been ‘asleep on the job’ for over 40 years. It’s a worse public health scandal than the Thalidomide one that led to the collection of birth defect data in the first place.”

Michael Ryan and Dr van Steenis met John McDonnell MP at the House of Commons in March 2004 to discuss why Hillingdon’s birth defect rate had gone from the lowest in London in 1990 to the highest in 2000 and 2001 [on published ONS data], following the 1990 start of Grundon’s nuclear waste incinerator at Colnbrook, immediately upwind of Hillingdon also impacting on Hounslow, which had the second highest rate of birth defects in London in 2002.

Notes to Editors:

1. The data analysed by Michael Ryan was released by the Office of National Statistics on the instruction of Rt. Hon Ruth Kelly MP and consists of the numbers of babies recorded as being born with defects in each of the 303 Primary Care Trusts in England plus the numbers of live births and stillbirths for each of the years from1995 to 2002. The births enable the rates of birth defects to be carried out so that comparison between PCTs is possible. The report and data is available online at

2. Michael Ryan is a retired Chartered Civil Engineer from Shrewsbury, who first met Dr van Steenis in 2002 and has been learning about the health effects of industrial PM2.5 air pollution. Ryan realised the significance of ONS birth defect data and started the analysis in August 2003. Paul Marsden MP raised concerns on his behalf in October 2003 and the government responded by withholding release of the 2002 data for six months and reducing the number of locations from 100 to just 33, thereby hiding the high zones. Ruth Kelly kindly authorised the release of unpublished ONS birth defect data following further correspondence in 2004 and 2005.

3. The 39-fold differential between Mid Devon and Islington is based on the assumption that 4 babies were born with defects in Islington. If only 2 such babies were born, the differential becomes 62.1 divided by 0.79, ie 78-fold. Similarly, if just one baby had been born with defects, Mid Devon PCT will have had a birth defect rate that was 159 times greater than in Islington, which is in the heart of the largest urban area in the UK.

4. Dr Dick van Steenis MBBS lectured at the 2002 Conference of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine on health issues [including birth defects] associated with industrial PM2.5 pollution. Case study 2 at the AAEM conference featured the health study which persuaded the High Court to close the Sint Niklaas municipal waste incinerator in December 2001, the report having been first published in July 2001. [See “Mispelstraat: Living under the smoke of a waste incinerator” at] the Sint Niklaas municipal waste incinerator in December 2001 by the Belgian High Court.

5. The Times, 6 January 1964 “Scheme to notify malformations” reported: “The scheme is voluntary but the chief medical officer expresses the hope that it will be supported by all doctors as a means of providing early information of causal factors of congenital information”. There is no account taken of medical terminations carried out for defects - more since 1997 due to better scanning techniques.

6. A graph showing the average rate of babies born with heart & circulatory defects in England and Wales from 1971-2003 is at and shows an upswing from the minimum recorded rate of 7.0 per 10,000 births in 1995 to 21.2 per 10,000 in 2003. There are also links to Hansard [and newspaper reports] references to birth defect rates by concerned MPs who were alerted by Michael Ryan

7. The latest research linking industrial PM2.5 emissions with birth defects was carried out at McMaster University, Canada [Science, 14 May 2004] and elevated birth defect rates in parts of England downwind of incinerators, cement works, oil refineries, power stations and steelworks will; be consistent with the McMaster findings. A link to the Science report is at

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