A study by researchers at the Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center found just such a link-a higher level of common household pesticides in the urine samples of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). “In our study,” said lead investigator Offie Soldin, Ph.D., “we compared urine samples from children with ALL and their mothers with healthy children and their moms. We found elevated levels of common household pesticides more often in the mother-child pairs affected by cancer.”
Researchers are quick to add that so far, there’s no proof that the pesticides caused these cancers, only that the study results show a need for more research. Still, what information we have so far is frightening. According to another study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, children who live in homes where parents use pesticides are twice as likely to develop brain cancer. The study looked at more than 800 fathers and 500 mothers living in four Atlantic Coast states, and found that parents’ exposure to pesticides in the home and at work prior to conception, during gestation, and after birth were related to the increased cancer occurrences.
A new National Cancer Institute (NCI) study just published this summer in Blood, a journal of the American Society of Hematology, found that applying pesticides (particularly for farmers) doubles the risk of developing MGUS, an abnormal blood condition that can lead to cancer of plasma cells in the bone marrow (multiple myeloma). “Our study is the first to show an association between pesticide exposure and an excess prevalence of MGUS,” said the study’s lead author, Ola Landgren, M.D., Ph.D.
Many are already aware of the danger pesticides can pose to farmers. A recent study published in the International Journal of Cancer found that pesticides used on cotton, peanut and soybean crops increased risk of colon cancer, and pesticides used on food crops, pasture land and lawns increased risk of rectal cancer. Other studies have shown links between agricultural pesticides and prostate cancer.
But as we can see from the Georgetown study and others, it’s not just farmers at risk. A Children’s Environmental Health study found seven pesticides in 48-83% of plasma samples from pregnant women in the New York City area, and discovered these pesticides were readily transferred to the fetuses. These women weren’t exposed to heavy amounts of agricultural pesticides. More likely, exposure came from conventional produce, and common household products like sprays for roses and flowers, herbicides to kill weeds, insecticides to kill insects (including bug sprays and ant baits), items to kill rodents, wood preservatives, and even in pool & spa cleaners or other disinfectants.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) agrees that young children and pregnant women are especially at risk for complications from pesticides, and urge everyone to reduce exposure by following these few steps:
- Buy organic when you can. Though “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean pesticide-free (pesticides derived from natural sources are allowed), studies have shown that organic produce typically has fewer pesticides.
- Don’t use pesticides to grown your own food.
- When you can’t buy organic, buy less-contaminated conventional produce. The EWG ranks popular fruits and vegetables based on pesticide residues. You can find their shopper’s guide here.
Have you cut back on your pesticide use? What alternatives are you employing?
Photo courtesy EcoAgriculture Partners via Flickr.com.