Primary teeth of Iraqi children show toxic impact of war
BASRA, Iraq: A high prevalence of heavy metals in the environment has been proven to have adverse health effects, especially in sensitive populations such as children and pregnant women. From analysis of samples of primary teeth from Iraqi children—a generation that has lived amid massive environmental disruption since the 2003 US invasion of the country—a new study has found remarkably high levels of neurotoxic lead contamination in this group compared with children from non-war zones.
The US and coalition forces invaded Iraq over 13 years ago. The resulting widespread public exposure to neurotoxic metals such as lead and mercury has been associated with alarming increases in birth defects and cancers in a number of cities. In the Al-Basrah Maternity Hospital, for example, the number of birth defects per 1,000 births increased from 1.37 in 1995 to 23 in 2003. This is an astonishing 17-fold increase in congenital birth defects in the same hospital within less than a decade, a 2012 study found.
Aiming to prove these devastating consequences of war-created pollution, the current study compared donated samples of primary teeth from Iraqi children with birth defects with those of children from Lebanon and Iran, both of which have seen a more moderate level of bombing and warfare during the same period.
Investigating the markers of prenatal exposure to neurotoxic heavy metals, they found that primary teeth from Iraqi children showed remarkably higher levels of lead than the teeth of healthy Lebanese and Iranian children did. According to the researchers, two Iraqi teeth had a level of lead four times higher and one tooth had as much as 50 times more lead than contained in the samples from Lebanon and Iran.
“Our hypothesis that increased war activity coincides with increased metal levels in deciduous teeth is confirmed by this research,” the researchers led by Iranian toxicologist Dr Mozhgan Savabieasfahani wrote in their paper. As war-created heavy metal pollution becomes more severe and common, the accurate measurement of this prenatal exposure becomes more urgent, they stressed.
The study, titled “Prenatal metal exposure in the Middle East: Imprint of war in deciduous teeth of children”, was published online ahead of print on 5 August in the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment journal.