Haifa University stands by criticized pollution study

Research that found babies born in Haifa weighed less than average was slammed by experts over purportedly incomplete data

Pollution in the northern Israeli city of Haifa in April 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
Pollution in the northern Israeli city of Haifa in April 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Haifa University stood by its report on pollution in the northern port city Tuesday, after the study was criticized by experts and government ministers as sowing panic unnecessarily.

“We stand by the study. The methods used were approved by a professional committee that included representatives from the Environment Ministry and the Health Ministry,” a statement from the university said.

According to the study, babies were born with smaller heads and weighed less than average in three focal points of air pollution in the Haifa area.

The study’s initial results were revealed on Sunday in a Channel 2 report and quickly drew criticism. A Health Ministry official said the study relied on preliminary data.

“We are now examining the methodology in the study on pollution in Haifa and its clinical significance. After a preliminary talk with researchers one can say the data is not ripe yet,” said Itamar Grotto, head of public health at the Health Ministry.

Other doctors and officials in a steering committee examining pollution damage in Haifa charged that the study sowed panic unnecessarily.

“There is a high chance that differences in weight and head circumference will be found to be insignificant or not be found at all,” an official from the committee was quoted by the Haaretz daily as saying.

On Tuesday evening, the Haifa city council will convene a special meeting to discuss the study with Environment Minister Avi Gabai and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman attending.

The study, which began in March, is expected to continue for five years. Preliminary data revealed so far relies on statistics regarding babies born during 2014 in the Haifa district who were weighed and examined in local clinics. The figures include 6,000 babies out of 8,965 born in the district in that year.

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