Preliminary draft aroused controversy in January when it claimed that babies in polluted parts of Haifa were born with smaller heads.
Ido Efrati and Noa Shpigel Aug 05, 2016

A scientific committee appointed by the health and environmental protection ministries yesterday slammed a controversial study on air pollution in Haifa Bay and recommended that its funding be cut.

The scientific panel was referring to a study that caused concern in January when it released a preliminary draft saying infants in Haifa’s most polluted areas are born weighing substantially less and with smaller heads than in cleaner parts of the city.

The committee said the study consisted of several failures and “cannot constitute a basis for evaluating morbidity and the connection between air pollution and the morbidity situation in Haifa Bay.”

The study, led by Prof. Boris Portnov of the University of Haifa and Dr. Jonathan Dubnov – acting Haifa district physician and a lecturer at the University of Haifa’s School of Public Health – began last year and is due to continue for five years.

The scientific committee’s 80-page report says the most fundamental problem that affects all aspects of the study is a faulty evaluation of the area’s residents’ exposure to air pollution.

The panel maintains that the evaluation was carried out in a method that is not suitable to Haifa Bay, and that the study didn’t deal in-depth with the pollution sources. The committee believes that these flaws could lead to an erroneous assessment of the exposure to pollution and a mistaken interpretation of the results.

The scientific panel is headed by Prof. Sigal Sedetzky, director of the Cancer and Radiology Epidemiology Unit at the Gertner Institute. “The study consists of dramatic errors stemming, among other things, from a shortage of experts on the research team,” Sedetzky told Haaretz. “An environmental study of this kind is multidisciplinary and requires a wide range of experts. For example, in results regarding head circumference averages, there isn’t even a basic standardization for each pregnancy week compared to the norm.”

The study focused on a number of issues, including the probability of contracting lung cancer and (non-Hodgkin’s) lymphoma, babies’ health, asthma among children and Israel Defense Forces recruits, biological monitoring of air-pollution effect and air quality. Twenty scientists from the Technion, Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion universities took part.

The preliminary draft released on Channel 2 said three heavily polluted areas were found in Haifa Bay, where a higher morbidity level than average was measured. The scientists’ main finding was that babies in these areas weighed less and had smaller heads than average.

The scientific committee’s report says the “study is riddled with fundamental methodological problems, which raise doubt as to the reliability and validity of the data and methods the scientists used, and hence regarding the validity and significance of the results.”

The study team said in response that the complete report was written by the best scientists in Israel. “The report itself consists of various studies carried out by scientists from various universities, based on external data banks from a number of sources,” the study team said. “Although different scientists worked on the study and used various studies and data banks – all the results are consistent and there is a high correlation among the various studies regarding the morbidity ‘hot spots’ that were found.”

They also said the study was recently released in “Environmental Research,” a scientific journal that publishes only a few dozen carefully selected studies a year. This proves the report is among the leading studies of its kind and that the scientists’ methodology is legitimate and acceptable, they added.
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Health, Environmental Protection Ministries reject study on Haifa pollution

State-appointed scientific committee determines research methods used in study that pointed to a connection between air pollution in the Haifa Bay area and cancer rates among the residents were inadequate to reach the conclusions drawn.
Rotem Elizera, Ilana Curiel|Published: 05.08.16 , 12:41

A scientific committee was tasked by the Health and Environmental Protection Ministries with examining the results of a study that pointed to a connection between air pollution in the Haifa Bay area and cancer rates among the residents. This committee has determined that the research methods used were inadequate to reach the conclusions drawn.

“These findings cannot form a basis to assessing the morbidity rates or to drawing a connection between air pollution and the morbidity in the Haifa Bay area,” the committee’s report determined.

The large-scale study, which made headlines at the beginning of the year and caused a public outcry, was funded by the Haifa District Municipal Association for Environmental Protection and from fees paid by the polluting factories.

The study, conducted by researchers from Haifa University, examined six sub-topics: The incidence of lung cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; the health of infants; the incidence of asthma in children; the incidence of asthma among new IDF recruits; biological monitoring of the impact of air pollution; and air quality data.

The researchers collected data on the health condition of the residents of the area, specifically focusing on cancer, heart diseases and lung diseases. These data were presented in conjunction with data on the air quality in the Haifa Bay area. Researchers also compared morbidity rates in Haifa to those in Tel Aviv and Hadera.

They found that babies born in areas of Haifa suffering from high levels of pollution have lower-than-average weight and head circumference, with measurements 20-30 percent less than babies from other areas in the city.

In addition, researchers found that rates of lung cancer and lymphoma in those areas are up to five times the national average.

The study points to three main areas with high rates of morbidity: Kiryat Haim and Kiryat Bialik, southeast Kiryat Tivon, and the Carmel range—the side facing the industrial zone.

The state-appointed scientific committee, headed by Prof. Siegal Sadetzki, examined the research methods used in the first year of the study. After scrutinizing the report, meeting with the researchers and discussing their findings, the committee unanimously determined that that the research methods used in the first year were inadequate to reach the conclusions drawn. The committee can therefore disregard the findings heretofore presented.

According to the committee, the study is plagued with fundamental methodological problems that raise doubt as to the credibility and validity of the data and that of the methods used by the researchers. This therefore also raises doubts regarding the validity and significance of the results presented.

The committee determined that while the research methods could point to changes over time in the concentration of pollutants by comparing different cities, they cannot be used to discerning the differences in the concentration of pollutants in different areas within Haifa.

In addition, the committee pointed to the fact the team of researchers did not include an expert on air quality, while the study itself lacked an assessment of exposure to this air quality.

The research team said in response, “The full report, led by researchers at the University of Haifa, was written by leading experts in the country, including experts from the University of Haifa, the Technion, Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University.

“The report itself consists of various studies, conducted by researchers from various universities, and based on external data repositories from several sources—the Health Ministry, the Environmental Protection Ministry and the IDF. Although the study includes various different researchers, studies and databases, all of the results are consistent, and there is a high correlation among the various studies regarding the ‘hot spots’ of morbidity discovered.

“Moreover, another study based on the methodology of the report was recently published in the Environmental Research journal, which publishes only a few dozen studies every year that have been carefully examined and selected from among hundreds submitted to the journal. This indicates that it is a leading study in its field, and that the methodology used by the researchers meets international scientific standards.”

Meanwhile, the Haifa Municipality said in response, “The municipality accepts verbatim the statement by the Environmental Protection and Health Ministries that rejects the research methods, as well as the interim results released to date.

“In the coming days, we will examine the issue and work alongside the Environmental Protection and Health Ministries to promote an alternative research, comprehensive and professional, to clarify the data on the quality of air in the area.”,7340,L-4837806,00.html