GB No. 11, spring 1993
The researches believe, that the degradation of the natural environment in the industrial region of Silesia causes changes in the genetic code and has given birth to the a human species: HOMO SILESIANUS.
Chromosomal changes have been recorded in children with high content of lead in the bloodstream, which might result in major genetic defects in future generations - causing both anatomical and physiological disorders.
In Poland the infant mortality is in the range of 15 promilles, in Silesia - 16.2 promilles, in Rozbark, a district of a heavily industrialised town Bytom - 53 promilles. By comparison, in Sweden it is less than six promilles. In Silesia around 20% of babies are born prematurely (i.e. twice as many as anywhere else in Poland) and the body weight of every fifth infant does not exceed 2.5 kg.
The annual statistic report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva, concludes that Poland holds respectively the second (boys) and the third (girls) place in the world, in terms of infant mortality caused by the congenital disorders.
This disturbingly high coefficient is owed to the statistical data coming from the industrial region of Upper Silesia. Two infants in a thousand die here due to the severe disorders in their genetic code - twice as many as anywhere else in the country.
In Silesia nearly 25% of all hospitalised new-borns suffer from congenital disorders - half of them die as a result. Presently, there are around 30 new-borns in the wards of the Paediatric Centre in Zabrze, the majority of them suffering from the respiratory disorders.
Professor Rozalia Osuch-Jaczewska, the regional neonatal consultant, has a rather bulky documentation pertaining to all cases involving genetic mutations. The photographs depict the lizard-like infants with missing limbs, others with split spinal columns, or heavily deformed, wolf-like jaws. A particularly horrific sight make the ones with only partially developed (i.e. facial part only) bone structure of the skull.
Professor Osuch-Jaczewska says that cases of split palates and "harelip" are very frequent in the region. In the heavily polluted areas of Laziska, Miko3owiec and Zabrze every two - three infants in a thousand suffer from this kind of anatomic abnormality, which, again, is twice as many as anywhere else in the country.
The chromosomal changes can be observed in every six - eight new-borns in a thousand. In 50% - 80% they are the direct cause of miscarriages, a phenomenon quite typical for the whole Silesian region.
Dr. Antoni Pyrkosz of the District Genetic Centre in Zabrze is of the opinion, that all genetic disorders should be treated still in the mother's womb, whenever it is at all possible. Therefore, all women who had either suffered a miscarriage or delivered an abnormal baby before, should undergo a series of prenatal medical examinations. Obviously, it is impossible to detect all (ca. 5,000 of them known) genetic disorders. It may happen, that a seemingly normal pregnancy would still produce a mutant.
Professor Mieczys3aw Chor1?y of the Institute of Molecular Biology at the Oncological Centre in Gliwice says, "Changes were observed in white blood corpuscles in blood samples taken from mature men. It follows, that other body tissues, possibly the ones responsible for the reproductive cells, may also be damaged. The fact that there are so many miscarriages, stillbirths and that the successful deliveries produce substantially underweight babies, seem to give some credence to this theory. In Silesia 50% of all pregnancies and deliveries are abnormal."
"Only the healthy gametes can produce a healthy baby" - argues Professor Osuch-Jaczewska - The first two weeks are the most crucial for the development of a zygote, which is precisely at the time, when a woman may not even be aware of her pregnancy. The placenta has not yet been developed and therefore all pollutants entering the system at this stage may adversely affect the division of chromosomes. The heavy metals like lead and cadmium are particularly dangerous."
A few years back, thirty mothers and their babies were examined at the Pediatric Centre in Zabrze. All of them were residents of Miasteczko Ol1skie, where the non-ferrous metals processing plant is located. It turned out, that in ca. 30% of babies the level of lead in the bloodstream was in excess of 20 micrograms/decilitre. According to the Scandinavian researchers 10 mcg/dcl is enough to damage the central nervous system.
The health report compiled last year by the nurses in the Primary School No. 17 in Miasteczko Ol1skie reads: out of 650 pupils two suffer from mental retardation and permanent damage to the central nervous system, nine show anatomical abnormalities, 30 suffer from sight disorders, three from prolonged urinary ducts complaints and ten from hearing and balance disorders.
"I always accompany my pupils to all school sporting competitions, and so I can see for myself, that their peers from other parts of the country are much taller," confesses Stanis3aw Prud3o, the physical education instructor from the same school.
"The causes of the genetic damage can only be determined in 40% of cases," reckons Dr. Antoni Pyrkosz. "These are mainly due to radioactivity, administering of certain medicines and contagious diseases contracted by the mothers during pregnancies. As to the remaining 60%, we cannot give any definitive answers, but the environmental factors obviously do have a major impact."
The Institute of Molecular Biology at the Oncological Centre in Gliwice conducts the analyses of the dust emissions in the area. Out of several thousand organic substances, around 250 compounds have been identified as containing 10 already known mutagenic and carcinogenic substances.
The Silesian heavy industry releases annually ca. 2 ml tonnes of dust and gases into the atmosphere. In the winter, when the level of air pollution rises due to the coal fired household heating, this problem becomes even more exacerbated, and the content of health hazardous substances in the organisms of the local populace increases substantially. In the summer, despite the relative drop in air pollution, the presence of toxic substances in human organism still exceeds the nation-wide safety standards set by the Ministry of Environment.
The researchers are adamant, that the car exhaust fumes exacerbate the problem considerably. The construction of a bypass and a motor-way circumventing the densely populated areas would improve the situation dramatically.
The team headed by Professor Mieczys3aw Chor1?y of the Oncological Centre in Gliwice for the last seven years has been conducting a research into the impact of pollution on the genetic changes in humans. A large percentage of examined men showed various degrees of chromosomal damage (several times more than in the control group in Bia3a Podlaska far eastern, non-industrialised part of the country). It was observed, that large particles of chemical substances, known to be instrumental in the process of genetic mutations, were attached to their blood cells.
"All changes in the human organism are monitored and put right automatically, as it were, by the immune system, for otherwise we would not be able to survive even a week," claims Professor Chor1?y. "What is very disturbing, however, is the fact that in many people those defensive mechanism have been effectively inhibited, their bodies are unable to get rid of the alien substances."
The Silesian Oncological Centre co-operates with many laboratories abroad. The observations made by the Polish doctors are then scrupulously verified by their Western colleagues on rats.
"Gazeta Wyborcza" No. 50,
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