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Pesticides & Household Cleaning Chemicals Linked to Asthma Epidemic in Children

>From <>

Published on Thursday, December 23, 2004 by the Times/UK

Household Chemicals in Direct Link to Asthma Rise

by Nigel Hawkes

HOUSEHOLD chemicals, including bleach, disinfectant and cleaning fluid, have
been blamed for the huge surge in childhood asthma in Britain.

A study of more than 7,000 children shows that children born into
households which use them most are twice as likely to suffer persistent
wheezing, often a precursor to asthma.

Incidence of the disease has tripled since the 1970s and the total number
in the country who suffer is estimated to have reached 1.4 million. Britain
has one of the highest rates of wheezing children in the world.

The study shows a clear connection between persistent wheezing and use of a
range of domestic chemicals, such as bleach, paint stripper, carpet cleaner
and air freshener. The use of household cleaning products has soared in the
past two decades: the market has grown by 60 per cent since 1994.

The researchers are not claiming that these chemicals cause asthma but that
there is a strong link. Their results back up an Australian study published
in August.

The data comes from Bristol University¹s Children of the 90s project, which
has been following a group of children born in the Avon area in the early
1990s. This study, published in Thorax, correlates health with information
about their homes and lifestyle.

"We are seeing what appear to be effects on lung function, either while the
baby is still in the womb or after birth," Dr Andrea Sherriff, of the
university, said. "We cannot say exactly what chemicals are involved but our
results are highly validated. We know the participants in the study well and
can rely on the information they give us."

Before they gave birth, mothers were asked how often they used certain
chemical-based products. From these questions, their households were divided
into categories based on "total chemical burden".

The team compared this with the incidence of wheezing in children up to the
age of 3?. Those in the top 10 per cent were more than twice as likely to
suffer persistent wheezing as those in the lowest 10 per cent.

"We have since followed children to the age of 8," Dr Sherriff said. "The
effects seem to persist." The team concludes: "These findings suggest that
children whose mothers made frequent use of chemical-based domestic products
during pregnancy were more likely to wheeze persistently throughout early
childhood, independent of many other factors."

The Australian study, based on a smaller sample, linked volatile compounds
in household chemicals with asthma. The Bristol team suggests that the
chemical formaldehyde could be a common factor.

Another possible explanation is that cleanliness itself may cause asthma.
This theory suggests that the immune systems of children raised in
over-clean environments do not develop properly. As a result they turn
against the body and trigger allergies, asthma or eczema.

Professor Andrew Peacock, of the British Thoracic Society, said: "More
long-term studies are needed before we advise pregnant women to throw out
all their air fresheners. But there are measures that can be taken to
protect yourself and your baby, such as reducing the number of household
products that you use and by wearing gloves and keeping windows open when


Disinfectant (used by 87.5% of households)

Bleach (84.8)

Aerosols (71.7)

Air freshener (68)

Window cleaner (60.5)

Carpet cleaner (35.8)

Paint or varnish (32.9)

White spirit (22.6)

Pesticide (21.2)

Paint stripper (5.5)

Dry-cleaning fluid (5.4)

© Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.