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Why do birth defects seem to be clustered in parts of Washington?

For expectant parents, the idea that their baby could suffer from a fatal birth defect is practically unthinkable. In many cases, birth defects are based on hereditary or genetic factors; however, in some cases, they can be tied to a particular geographic area where expectant mothers might be exposed to something hazardous.

It can be difficult to pinpoint these sorts of wide-spread illnesses, to the dismay of the parents living in the affected area. One such area that has received attention recently is Washington state, where a few areas are experiencing higher-than-normal brain defects among infants.

The babies suffer from anencephaly, which results in babies missing parts of their skulls or brains. In three Washington counties, at least seven babies were born with this fatal condition last year. This represents about triple the expected rate for an area with a population that size.

Overall, since 2010, there have been 30 documented cases. That translates to a rate of just under 9 per 10,000 births. That is in contrast to the national average, which is closer to 2 per 10,000 births.

There are several theories about why these sections of Washington are turning out these high rates. Some of the causes that people have floated include a lack of folic acid supplements being taken by pregnant women there; mold or pesticide in the area; or nuclear waste from a power plant in the area.

None of these theories have gotten much traction yet, but so far, not much work on the ground has been done in the area. Hopefully, a cause can be uncovered sooner rather than later.

Source: About Lawsuits, "High Rate of Unexplained Birth Defects Continue In Washington State," Irvin Jackson, April 25, 2014

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