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Space launches make kids sick

Hydrazine fingered in leaked study

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Children living close to the old Soviet Union's oldest space launch pad are more likely to suffer hormonal problems and blood disorders, according to a Siberian study leaked to the journal Nature.

The study claims that the rates of such diseases have doubled in some cases in populations near the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. However, the research has not been published, and was rejected by Russia's space agency. A spokesman for the agency said it kept a close eye on pollution levels, and was not aware of any health problems. He added that areas that were polluted were compensated.

The Baikonur Cosmodrome saw the launch of the rocket that carried Yuri Gagarin to space, and is the oldest space launch pad in the world. It is also where flights leave for the International Space Station. The Russian Space Agency leases the facility from Kazakhstan.

Researchers studied the medical records of 1,000 children in areas close to the launch pad. It found that children in areas most affected were twice as likely to need medical treatment as those in unpolluted areas. The authors conclude that waste hydrazine fuel, left unburned from early stages of launches, is responsible for the high rate of illnesses.

Fabio Caramelli, an engineer at the European Space Research and Technology Centre, said the fuel was "nasty and toxic", BBC Online reports. "A tablespoon of hydrazine in a swimming pool would kill anyone who drank the water," he said.

The ESA uses the Baikonur facilities, but a spokesman for the agency said the pollution "is a matter for the Russian space agency,". ®

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