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Pesticides Raise Child Risk of Leukemia - Study

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




By Sam Lister


(read the full study here)


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 children.


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



Head lice products containing carbaryl are now restricted to prescription after a

report by a government committee that gave warning of potential carcinogenic



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 period.


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



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



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