Health authorities in Yakima, Washington are investigating an unusual spike in the number of babies born with a spinal cord birth defect known as anencephaly. Anencephaly is a condition where the neural tube surrounding the spinal cord fails to close properly at the top of the spine. The result is usually that the fetus is missing large portions of its brain and/or skull. Three-quarters of babies born with this condition are stillborn, and those that survive longer last just a few hours or days.
Washington health officials expected Yakima County to have only one case of anencephaly in 4,000, in line with national statistics. Instead, officials found eight such cases in 2012. That said, although Washington hospitals are required to report anencephaly, officials have not studied previous years' reports to see whether they are consistent with the report from 2012.
Health officials believe that one reason for the unexpectedly high rate of anencephaly cases is that not enough pregnant women are taking folic acid. Folic acid can be found in leafy green vegetables, legumes, citrus fruits, and fortified grains. At the same time, officials will be studying other potential causes, including a contaminant in corn meal that could be linked to anencephaly, and high levels of nitrates in the drinking water. Furthermore, Yakima County has experienced poor health rates in other areas, including diabetes and obesity, and not enough residents have access to a regular doctor.
Anencephaly is one of the most extreme examples of a neural tube defect, but there are others that are more common and quite serious, such as spina bifida. With spina bifida, some vertebrae over the spinal column might not fully form during pregnancy, leaving part of the spinal column exposed. While it may not be life threatening, it does subject the individual to a lifetime of physical and neurological problems.
If your child suffers from a neural tube defect that you believe is due to an exterior source, such as nitrates in the water or a contaminant in your food, you have the option of filing a toxic tort lawsuit and/or a product liability lawsuit. With a toxic tort lawsuit, you might sue the company responsible for providing you with drinking water and/or the entities responsible for contaminating the water. The difficulty would be in providing evidence that that specific entity -- such as a power plant or an agricultural company -- was the one responsible for contaminating the water. However, one way you could get the evidence would be to run tests on the water and demonstrate that the same toxins in the water were also found in the entity's emissions.
If you instead wanted to sue over a toxin in corn meal, you would need to determine which products contained the corn meal and when they were consumed. You might then run tests on the meal and argue that the toxins found were exactly the ones that studies had linked to neural tube defects. As a defense against the entities' claims that the neural tube defects were due to insufficient folic acid intake, you might provide a diary of the foods that you consumed during pregnancy, showing that you did eat sufficient foods containing folic acid.
The birth defect attorneys at Oshman & Mirisola, LLP have successfully represented clients in birth defect lawsuits for more than 35 years. If your child suffers from a birth defect that you believe could be due to your exposure to harmful levels of toxins while pregnant, please contact us today by calling (800) 400-8182, or submit our online Contact Us form.