Waste incineration and adverse birth and neonatal outcomes: a systematic review

Environ Int. 2014 Aug:69:120-32. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2014.04.003. Epub 2014 May 12.


Background: Public concern about potential health risks associated with incineration has prompted studies to investigate the relationship between incineration and risk of cancer, and more recently, birth outcomes. We conducted a systematic review of epidemiologic studies evaluating the relationship between waste incineration and the risk of adverse birth and neonatal outcomes.

Methods: Literature searches were performed within the MEDLINE database, through PubMed and Ovid interfaces, for the search terms; incineration, birth, reproduction, neonatal, congenital anomalies and all related terms. Here we discuss and critically evaluate the findings of these studies.

Results: A comprehensive literature search yielded fourteen studies, encompassing a range of outcomes (including congenital anomalies, birth weight, twinning, stillbirths, sex ratio and infant death), exposure assessment methods and study designs. For congenital anomalies most studies reported no association with proximity to or emissions from waste incinerators and "all anomalies", but weak associations for neural tube and heart defects and stronger associations with facial clefts and urinary tract defects. There is limited evidence for an association between incineration and twinning and no evidence of an association with birth weight, stillbirths or sex ratio, but this may reflect the sparsity of studies exploring these outcomes.

Conclusions: The current evidence-base is inconclusive and often limited by problems of exposure assessment, possible residual confounding, lack of statistical power with variability in study design and outcomes. However, we identified a number of higher quality studies reporting significant positive relationships with broad groups of congenital anomalies, warranting further investigation. Future studies should address the identified limitations in order to help improve our understanding of any potential adverse birth outcomes associated with incineration, particularly focussing on broad groups of anomalies, to inform risk assessment and waste policy.

Keywords: Birth; Incineration; Incinerators; Neonatal; Review; Waste.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Congenital Abnormalities / epidemiology*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incineration / methods*
  • Incineration / statistics & numerical data
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome / epidemiology*
  • Refuse Disposal / methods*
  • Refuse Disposal / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sex Ratio