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Asthma in Young Children: Prenatal DDE Exposure May Increase Risk

Environmental Health Perspectives
Environmental Health Perspectives
Publication Date
  • Environews
  • Science Selections
  • Agricultural Science
  • Medicine


workingscisel A 836 VOLUME 113 | NUMBER 12 | December 2005 • Environmental Health Perspectives Environews Science Selections Di gi ta l S to ck Asthma in Young Children Prenatal DDE Exposure May Increase Risk Most countries have banned the agricultural use of the organo- chlorine insecticide DDT because of the way this persistent, fat- soluble compound accumulates in the food chain. However, DDT is still widely sprayed in developing countries to combat malaria- bearing mosquitoes. Studies have linked exposure to DDT and its persistent metabolite p,p´-DDE to changes in the immune responses of human cells, and to asthma prevalence in children and adults. A longitudinal study now shows that prenatal exposure may provide the fundamental window for asthma susceptibility linked to DDT [EHP 113:1787–1790]. Investigators collected umbilical cord blood from 482 children born on the Spanish island of Menorca and tested 84% for the presence of organochlorine compounds. DDT is not used on Menorca. However, the parents of the children in the study ate relatively large amounts of fish, which can be a source of exposure to DDT residues. According to self-reports of diet on question- naires, more than half of the mothers ate fish more than twice a week during pregnancy. All of the children tested had p,p´-DDE in their cord serum (the median concentration was 1.03 nanograms per milliliter [ng/mL]). Serum levels tended to be higher in children with older mothers, although the mothers’ fish consumption during pregnancy correlat- ed poorly with the children’s DDE levels. Each child’s serum also contained hexachlorobenzene and polychlorinated biphenyls. The researchers correlated the children’s prenatal exposure to risk of having asthma or atopy at age 4. Asthma was defined as one or more episodes of wheezing in the fourth year alone, one or more episodes of wheezing per year in consecutive years (“persis- tent wheezing”), or a physician’s diagnosis of asthma. Atopy was defined as having blood

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