Florida Child serves as "precedent" for Seven children in southwestern Ontario were born in the last three years with no eyes, an extremely rare birth defect.

Specialists say the number of cases is unprecedented in Canada. They believe there may be environmental factors linked to many of the children. The story says that three of the mothers were on an apple orchard during their pregnancy.

The story says that the parents believe exposure to pesticides when during pregnancy could be responsible. The experts are undecided. At least three of the mothers were exposed to apple orchards, where fungicides are regularly sprayed, during the first three months of their pregnancy when the baby's eyes develop.

Dozens of families in Britain and America, whose children were born with microphthalmia (small eyes) and anopthalmia (no eyes), are suing DuPont, the American-based chemical giant. They blame exposure during pregnancy to the chemicals benomyl and carbendazim, which are found in Benlate, a common DuPont garden spray.

The court claims follow a landmark decision two years ago, when a Florida court ordered DuPont to pay $4-million (US) in damages to Johnny Castillo, now six, who was born without eyes as a result of his mother's exposure to Benlate during pregnancy. Benomyl is the active ingredient in 11 fungicides sold in Canada, including various forms of Benlate.

The seven Ontario children were born with bilateral anopthalmia, meaning they are missing two eyes, the most severe form of the condition. Some have been fitted with artificial eyes, though they will never be able to see.

The story depicts several of the personal cases, and states that in the U.S. court case against DuPont, which the company is appealing, a six-member jury heard expert testimony that inhaling microscopic amounts of the compounds found in Benlate during the fourth to ninth week of pregnancy can have "devastating results in foetuses," according to laboratory research.

DuPont, which denies its products cause health problems, has settled out of court in U.S. cases involving alleged damage to crops sprayed with Benlate. In 1993, it was ordered to pay $115 million (US) for allegedly committing fraud by concealing evidence about the product.

Benlate DF, a granular formula of the fungicide at the centre of the Castillo and crop cases, has been voluntarily taken off the market by the company.

Dr. Shi Wa Wen, a senior epidemiologist at Health Canada, and Brian Lowry, professor emeritus in medical genetics at the University of Calgary, investigated the Ontario cases which are in Rodney, Kitchener, Stratford, Southampton, Ajax, and Toronto.

One parent was quoted as saying, "They interviewed us and said they would take soil samples but they never did. They never got back to us. I felt it was kind of like they were sweeping it under the carpet." The Health Canada epidemiologist was quoted as saying he found "no apparent cluster ... It seems just a spontaneous event so we could not draw any conclusions."

The National Post requested a copy of his research findings at the end of August; no one from the government has responded. Prof. Lowry, who ran Alberta Health's birth defects registry, was quoted as saying, "I accept there does seem to be a cluster. Yes, it is an unusual series of events but I think it is too early to draw conclusions. They were all sporadic cases; sporadic does not rule it out being environmental nor does it rule out genetic causes. I assumed the government was monitoring this." 

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