Birth defects in heavily polluted China have increased by nearly 40 per cent since 2001, with a deformed baby born every 30 seconds, state media reported on Tuesday.
The rate of defects appeared to increase near the country's countless coal mines, which produce the bulk of China's energy but are also responsible for serious air and water pollution, the
newspaper said, quoting government officials.
Birth defects nationwide have increased from 104.9 per 10,000 births in 2001 to 145.5 last year, it said, citing a report by the National Population and Family Planning Commission.
They affect about one million of the 20 million babies born every year, with about 300,000 babies suffering from "visible deformities."
"A baby with birth defects is born every 30 seconds in China and the situation has worsened year by year," said Jiang Fan, deputy head of the commission and author of the report.
About 30-40 per cent of the deformed children born each year die shortly after birth.
There is a correlation between birth defects and proximity to environmentally degraded areas, said An Huanxiao, head of family planning in the heavily polluted northern province of Shanxi, source of much of the nation's coal.
Shanxi tops the nation in birth defects, Xinhua said.
A correlation can also be drawn with parents' poverty and low education, An was quoted as saying.
China suffers from serious pollution, the price of its stunning economic rise, with air quality in major cities regularly exceeding danger levels and millions of people lacking access to clean water.