Pesticide Exposure During Pregnancy Linked to Breathing Problems: Study

Children whose mothers were exposed to a pesticide known as dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) may be at an increased risk of breathing problems, according to the findings of a new study. 

Researchers from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Spain recently published a study on DDE exposure during pregnancy in the European Respiratory Journal, finding that exposure to DDE was linked to increased rates of ling infections and wheezing in children within their first year.

DDE is a broken down form of the pesticide DDT, which was banned in 1973 due to its harmful side effects. However, the broken down version of the chemical, DDE, is still in the environment and will be for hundreds of years. DDT is still used in some countries to control mosquito populations where malaria is a serious problem.

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Exposure to DDT has been linked to seizures, tremors, headaches and nausea, but the symptoms typically fade once exposure has ended.

The researchers looked at 1,455 Mother-child pairs and found that more than 35% develop a lung infection and 33.6% suffer from wheezing in the first year. The risk increased in direct relation to the amount of DDE in the mother’s blood. If no pregnant women had been exposed to DDE, the rate would have been closer to 30% for the infections.

Researchers also looked at wheezing and lung infections in relation to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and hexachlorobenze (HCB), but found no correlations between those chemicals and early breathing problems.

The study concluded that there was a dose-specific link to higher risk of lung infections and wheezing with DDE exposure during pregnancy, but not with the other organochlorine compounds tested.

The findings follow a birth defect study published this summer by Chinese researchers that linked exposure to pesticides and coal smoke during pregnancy to an increased risk of birth defects. Mothers exposed to pesticides like DDT in that study had triple the risk of giving birth to a child with a neural tube defect.

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