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Sinn Féin calls for investigation of Down's syndrome clusters

19 February, 2007

Sinn Féin Newry and Armagh Sinn Fein Assembly election candidate Mickey Brady has highlighted the proliferation of cases of children with Down's syndrome in the area said that there is a need for focused investigations and research into the issue.

Mr Brady said:

"I believe that there is a pressing need for specific investigations and research into what many believe are a highly localised excess of Down's syndrome births, in particular to young mothers in this area. Within the last two weeks four such cases have been recorded in the area.

"A study in 2000 investigating a reported cluster of children with Down's syndrome born to mothers who attended a school in Dundalk, that also examined data from the Newry and Mourne area, said that chance was the 'most likely explanation for the cluster'. However, more recent research undermines the validity of this finding.

"Data from the Newry and Mourne area for live births 1961-80 were used in the Louth research that concluded that the figures 'do not suggest an unusual level of risk' and that 'certain assumptions had to be made to derive the maternal age distribution of live births in Newry and Mourne District, but these are unlikely to seriously underestimate the observed rates'. However, I do not think that it is sufficient, as the Louth Report did, to 'effectively dismiss' environmental factors such as an influenza epidemic (1957) or contamination from the Windscale (Sellafield) nuclear reactor fire (1957) might be implicated in causing the Down's syndrome cluster.

"A study carried out into the increase in Down's syndrome in West Berlin in 1987 (Little) pointed to the Chernobyl (1986) incident and the fallout. The West Lothian region of Scotland also reported excess of Down's syndrome cases and associated them with Chernobyl. One of the key criticisms of the Louth Report was that the research was too narrow to form the basis of a judgement. The target group for the Chernobyl research covered women who began bearing children between 1992 and 2002.

"Many people, including myself, are not convinced. I believe that given the clustering of Down's syndrome cases in the Newry area and along the East Coast that we need specific investigations and research into possible environmental factors." ENDS

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