Metal contamination and the epidemic of congenital birth defects in Iraqi cities

Bull Environ Contam Toxicol. 2012 Nov;89(5):937-44. doi: 10.1007/s00128-012-0817-2. Epub 2012 Sep 16.


Between October 1994 and October 1995, the number of birth defects per 1,000 live births in Al Basrah Maternity Hospital was 1.37. In 2003, the number of birth defects in Al Basrah Maternity Hospital was 23 per 1,000 live births. Within less than a decade, the occurrence of congenital birth defects increased by an astonishing 17-fold in the same hospital. A yearly account of the occurrence and types of birth defects, between 2003 and 2011, in Al Basrah Maternity Hospital, was reported. Metal levels in hair, toenail, and tooth samples of residents of Al Basrah were also provided. The enamel portion of the deciduous tooth from a child with birth defects from Al Basrah (4.19 μg/g) had nearly three times higher lead than the whole teeth of children living in unimpacted areas. Lead was 1.4 times higher in the tooth enamel of parents of children with birth defects (2,497 ± 1,400 μg/g, mean ± SD) compared to parents of normal children (1,826 ± 1,819 μg/g). Our data suggested that birth defects in the Iraqi cities of Al Basrah (in the south of Iraq) and Fallujah (in central Iraq) are mainly folate-dependent. This knowledge offers possible treatment options and remediation plans for at-risk Iraqi populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Congenital Abnormalities / epidemiology*
  • Congenital Abnormalities / metabolism
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism
  • Environmental Pollution / statistics & numerical data
  • Hair / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Iraq / epidemiology
  • Lead / metabolism
  • Mercury / metabolism
  • Metals / analysis*
  • Metals / metabolism
  • Nails / metabolism
  • Tooth / metabolism
  • Uranium / metabolism


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Metals
  • Lead
  • Uranium
  • Mercury