Results from eight main coal mining areas in Shanxi province show levels far higher than the national average, according to a Xinhua News Agency report carried by the Beijing News.
"The rate of birth defects is related to environmental pollution," the report said, citing provincial official An Huanxiao.
Shanxi is one of China's most heavily polluted regions, mainly as a result of heavy mining and use of high-sulfur coal, demand for which is soaring with the rising economy.
No figures were given in the report, although data posted earlier this month on the Web site of the government's National Population and Family Planning Commission said the national rate of birth defects had increased by nearly 50 percent over 2001-2006, rising to 145.5 per 10,000 births.
Combined with other forms of visible defects and problems that don't show up until several months after birth, a total of 1.
The commission gave no specific reasons for the increase, but urged medical authorities to better educate potential parents and invest more in prevention and screening.
"Birth defects affect our country's overall national strength, international competitiveness, and sustainable development," it said.
Treatment for such birth defects consumed large amounts of government funds, while the long-term effects include a decline in the quality and size of the labor force, it said.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, birth defects affect about one out of 33 babies in the United States.
Most problems occur during the first three months of pregnancy, and can include clearly visible defects such as cleft lip or neural tube defects, as well as others, such as heart defects, for which special testing is required, according to the institutes' Web site.
While some defects are genetic, others such as fetal alcohol syndrome, result from exposure to medicines and chemicals, the Web site said, adding, "For most birth defects, the cause is unknown."
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