Norwegian torpedo boat service associated with increased risk of birth defects

January 16, 2006

Military service aboard a Norwegian missile torpedo boat was associated with a signficantly increased risk of having children with birth defects or who were stillborn, reveals research in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The findings are based on the health and family data of more than 2000 current employees of the Royal Norwegian Navy.

In common with other ships of its class, the vessel, which had been deployed between 1971 and 1995, was equipped with high, very high, and ultra high frequency transmitters.

Between 1987 and 1994, the ship was additionally equipped with a 750 watt high frequency transmitter, and emitted signals over protracted periods of time during the course of "electronic warfare."

Sixty two employees had served aboard the torpedo boat during the 1990s, and 50 became parents to 117 children of whom 114 were included in the study.

Of these children, 87 were classified as having been conceived during or after employment aboard ship.

Eight of these children had been born with birth defects and six had been stillborn. All the children with congenital anomalies had been born to male employees.

The rates of birth defects and stillbirths among these children were four times as high as among those whose fahers had not served aboard this torpedo boat.

There were no significant differences in lifestyle, alcohol, or cigarette consumption between the two groups of employees.

An accompanying editorial is quick to point out that an association does not imply a causal effect, particularly as there is as yet no obvious biological explanation for the findings.

However, the editorial calls for further research into the reproductive histories of active naval personnel, noting that there has been relatively little research into the possible impact of electromagnetic fields on birth defects.
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BMJ Specialty Journals

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