Municipal solid waste incinerators emissions contain pollutants that, despite their low concentration, might adversely affect reproductive health. In the present study, we examined rates of miscarriage and birth defects among women who resided or were employed in the vicinity of a municipal solid waste incinerator plant from 2003 to 2013. In 2009, a progressive shutdown of the old incineration lines and operation of a new line caused considerably higher atmospheric release of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, particularly of dioxins, due to these irregular operating conditions, technological renovation, and increased capacity. We used dioxin emission levels, based on a dispersion model, to define exposure status of the residing population to air pollutants emitted by the waste incinerator. In women who resided in areas characterized by higher emission exposures compared with a referent area, the relative risk (RR) of miscarriage was 1.04 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.80–1.32) based on 62 cases overall, with little evidence of a dose-response relation. RRs were similarly null for both 2003–2008 and 2010–2013 periods (RR 1.12 (95% CI 0.80–1.53) and 0.98 (95% CI 0.63–1.48), respectively). Concerning birth defects in the offspring of women residing in the exposed area, no evidence of increased risk emerged, since the prevalence ratio at birth was 0.64 (95% CI 0.29–1.26), with comparable results in the 2003–2008 and 2010–2013 period. Corresponding analyses carried out in municipal residents who worked in the exposed area confirmed these findings. We also did not detect abnormally high rates of miscarriage and birth defects in the exposed cohorts in the single year 2009.
Overall, these results do not suggest an effect of exposure to the emissions of the municipal solid waste incinerator we investigated on two indicators of reproductive health. However, the limited statistical stability of the estimates and the absence of individual-based information on some potential confounders suggest caution in the interpretation of study findings.