A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Naples has found that the environmental pollution leaching from an estimated 1230 illegal hazardous waste dumps in Italy’s Campania region is causing shortened telomere lengths in nearby residents. The study was sparked by an unusually high number of cancer fatalities and birth defects found in this region, dubber the “triangle of death.”
The study took blood samples from 50 healthy women in the area who came in for abortions. The findings showed that the telomeres of women living within the hazardous area were significantly shorter than those living outside of it. “It means that the cells have been put under oxidative stress,” said gynecologist Carmine Nappi, who headed the study. “The women are healthy, but their reduced telomere length means that their cellular age is higher than their biological age.”
It is unclear which chemicals specifically are causing this shortening effect, but the researchers suspect toxic industrial waste products called dioxins, which are suspected of affecting embryo development.