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No connection detected between steel plant emissions in Tornio and congenital anomalies

16 Sep 2011

Finnish register data on congenital anomalies do not support the hypothesis put forward by the Swedish media that there has been an increase in births with congenital anomalies in Haparanda due to the industrial emissions in the Tornio area. Swedish authorities are responsible for the investigation and evaluation of the situation in Haparanda.

The Swedish media reported on news of births with congenital anomalies in Haparanda in Sweden and a suspected causal association with emissions from the Tornio steel plant in Finland. According to the information received by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) in Finland there would be five births with congenital anomalies in Haparanda this year. THL does not have information on the type of these anomalies or any other facts needed for investigating the issue. Swedish authorities are responsible for the investigation and evaluation of the situation in Haparanda.

The suspected effects of the steel plant on the Finnish side have been investigated by THL by using data on congenital anomalies from the Finnish Register of Congenital Malformations. The total prevalence of births and terminations of pregnancy with major congenital anomalies in the Tornio area did not statistically differ from the prevalence in rest of the Länsi-Pohja Hospital District during the period 1993–2009. In other words, the prevalence of congenital anomalies was similar in Tornio and in the rest of the Länsi-Pohja district.

Further, the total prevalence has remained substantially stable both in Tornio and in the rest of the Länsi-Pohja district during the whole study period. In both areas, the total prevalence has in fact been significantly lower than elsewhere in Finland, though this may be explained by regional differences in notifying congenital anomalies. Finnish register data do not, therefore, appear to suggest any association between congenital anomalies and the industrial emissions in the Tornio area.

The Tornio steel plant began operations in 1976. If there were a link between plant emissions and congenital anomalies, the impact would have been expected to be visible much earlier. THL has no specific data relating to exposure levels for the population in that region, but the Forest Research Institute reports that environmental measurements show chromium concentrations have declined since the 1980s and that nickel and mercury levels have not been elevated. In addition, in that area of the Gulf of Bothnia, the environmental pollutant levels in fish are not particularly high compared to other Northern Baltic Sea areas. Based on these data, a link between factory emissions and congenital anomalies is therefore very unlikely.

Further information:

Annukka Ritvanen
special reseacher
THL
tel. 020 610 7376
e-mail address: firstname.lastname@thl.fi

Matti Viluksela
special reseacher
THL
tel. 020 610 6329
e-mail address: firstname.lastname@thl.fi

Hannu Kiviranta
special reseacher
THL
tel. 020 610 6361
e-mail address: firstname.lastname@thl.fi

Updated 16 Sep 2011