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Finnish emissions 'cause Swedish birth defects'

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Finnish emissions 'cause Swedish birth defects'
Finnish steel plant Outokumpu in Tornio.
10:16 CEST+02:00
Emissions from steel giant Outokumpu, in the Finnish city of Tornio (Torneå in Swedish), are believed to be the cause of several infants in Haparanda in northern Sweden being born with serious birth defects this year, according to a Swedish media report.

”This many children born with birth defects is a significant amount and it requires a thorough investigation into their living environment,” said Lennart Hardell, professor in oncology at the university hospital in Örebro to local paper Norrländska Socialdemokraten (NSD).

Hardell confirms that the substances emitted from the plant could cause birth defects.

According to the paper, there are no genetic explanations for the infants' defects, which puts the focus on the environment and the emissions of, among other substances, dioxins, mercury, chromium and nickel.

According to the Swedish Environmental Agency (Naturvårdsverket) the emissions from the Finnish plant are ”unacceptably high”.

They want the company to conduct regular checks of the mercury emissions in the area and say that the company must strive to ”minimise the damage to the environment and heath risks in Sweden”.

Markku Huvinen, chief medical officer on Outokumpu's board of directors, told news agency TT that he is surprised at the connection between the infants' defects and the environment.

”It sounds both weird an unexpected but we are treating it with utmost seriousness and we want to understand a bit more about what is causing it,” he said.

According to Huvinen, Outokumpu has been studying the health of 300 employees over the last 23 years in places like Torneå and Avesta in Sweden, as well as Sheffield in England.

”There have been no cases of long-term illness and the amount of metal in their blood and urine and the concentration has stayed normal in comparison to the rest of the population in the Nordic countries,” Huvinen told TT.

Expert on environmental pollution, scientist Gunnar Lindgren, told NSD that there is no denying that the emissions will have an effect on the local environment and that those in charge are prepared and have accepted that this is going to directly affect parts of the population.

”Often a fake comparison like 'it is no more dangerous to live here than in New York' will be presented,” Lindgren told the paper.

He said that however much the media will report on this, there will never be an official who admits to there being a problem.

”The motivation is the same, they don't want to worry the residents,” Lindgren told NSD.

Oncologist Lennart Hardell says he would recommend a health check for all of the inhabitants of the region, not in the least by those in the most subjected area – Reikola.

”If there is a high rate of birth defects over a short period of time it could always be a question of coincidence, but on the other hand if any environmental factors are suspected there should be an investigation,” Hardell told daily Expressen.

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