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Pesticides Raise Child Risk of Leukemia - Study

LONDON JAN 17, 2006 (Reuters) -

(read the full study here)

Exposure to pesticides in the womb or as a child can double the risk of developing acute leukemia, French scientists said on Tuesday. They discovered that children born to women who used insecticides in the home while pregnant and after the birth were nearly twice as likely as other youngsters to develop leukemia.

Even insecticidal shampoos to kill head lice raised the odds of the disease.

"The results... support the hypothesis that various types of insecticide exposure may be a risk factor for childhood acute leukemia," said Dr Florence Menegaux, of the research institute INSERM Villejuif, France, in a report in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The researchers discovered the link after interviewing the mothers of 280 children who had been diagnosed with leukemia and of 288 healthy children.

They found that youngsters exposed to fungicides and garden insecticides had more than double the risk of the illness than other children.

Although no specific product was singled out in the study, the scientists said their findings and results from other research suggest action to prevent exposure to insecticides should be considered.

Leukemia is the most common cancer in children. Symptoms include anaemia, joint pain and repeated infections. Children with the illness may also have nosebleeds and bruising without any apparent cause.

Chemotherapy, which is very effective against the disease, is the standard treatment.


Household Chemicals Could Double Child leukemia Risk

From: The Times (London, UK), Jan. 17, 2006


By Sam Lister

Children frequently exposed to household insecticides used on plants,
lawns and in head lice shampoos appear to run double the risk of
developing childhood leukemia, research suggests.

A study by French doctors, published today in the journal Occupational
and Environmental Medicine, supports concerns raised in recent years
about the use of toxic insecticides around the home and garden
including plant sprays, medication shampoos and mosquito repellents
and a possible correlation with increased rates of acute leukemia in

The latest study by Inserm, France's national institute for medical
research, was based on 280 children who had acute leukemia, newly
diagnosed and 288 children matched for sex and age but disease free.

Detailed interviews were carried out with each mother. These included
questions about the employment history of both parents, the use of
insecticides in the home and garden and the use of insecticidal
shampoos against head lice.

It showed that the risk of developing acute leukemia was almost twice
as likely in children whose mothers said that they had used
insecticides in the home while pregnant and long after the birth.

Exposure to garden insecticides and fungicides as a child was
associated with a more than doubling of disease occurrence. The use of
insecticidal shampoos for head lice was associated with almost twice
the risk.

Describing the links as "significant", the authors said that
preventive action should be considered to ensure that the health risks
to children were as small as possible. A group of pesticides known as
carbamates, which are present in plant treatments, lice shampoos and
insect sprays, are most commonly linked to cases of leukemia.

There are three main carbamates used in the UK < carbaryl, carbofuran
and carbosulfan.

Head lice products containing carbaryl are now restricted to
prescription after a report by a government committee that gave
warning of potential carcinogenic properties.

Florence Menegaux, the lead researcher based at the Paris
headquarters, and her fellow authors said that no one agent could be
singled out and a causal relation between insecticides and the
development of acute childhood leukemia "remains questionable". But
they said that the patterns revealed suggested that the results should
be acted on and "preventative action" considered.

leukemia is the term used to describe a number of cancers of the
blood cells. In children about 85 per cent of these are acute
lymphoblastic leukemia, and acute myeloid leukemia accounts for most
of the rest.

leukemia makes up about a third of all cancers in children and
currently kills more than any other disease in the UK. Of the 500
children under the age of 15 who have the disease diagnosed each year,
about 100 die. Research has shown that boys are 10 per cent more
likely than girls to suffer the disease.

In the late 1960s, the mortality rate for leukemia among children was
about 26 deaths per million of the population in England and Wales.
This dropped to about 10 by the late 1990s. But the incidence rate
increased from about 40 to 45 cases per million over the same

The number of new cases being diagnosed has been rising for at least
40 years, particularly in the under-5s.

Scientists believe that the cancer starts in the womb, with a second
event triggering the disease¹s development in childhood. Studies are
continuing to determine whether this trigger is genetic,
environmental, dietary or related to other factors.

The possible link to pesticides remains hotly debated, with many
scientists disputing the suggestion that it is a significant factor.
Some have drawn attention to a potential "cocktail effect", when
apparently safe chemicals cause problems if combined with others.

Although products sold for use in homes and gardens are tested,
mixtures of pesticides are not generally tested because of the number
of permutations involved.