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Daily News Blog

03
Mar

Chemical-Intensive Agriculture Increases Pregnant Mother’s Risk of Her Child Developing Leukemia

(Beyond Pesticides, March 3, 2020) Pregnant mothers living in areas where carcinogenic pesticides have been used are at increased risk of their child developing an acute form of leukemia, according to research published last month in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. The findings are based on a review of pesticide use data in rural, agricultural areas of California, where many minority, low-income and farmworking communities live. Under current laws, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permits the use of cancer-causing pesticides with an expectation that a certain number of cancers (anywhere from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 1,000,000, based on the pesticide in question) should be considered ‘acceptable risk.’

While past studies have shown similar connections between pesticide exposure in the womb and the development of childhood cancer, this is one of the first to utilize geographic information systems (GIS) data, rather than parental interviews on past exposures. Researchers used California public records of cancer incidence from 1998-2011, alongside statewide pesticide use reports (California is the only state to make this information publicly accessible and searchable). A list of 65 pesticides were investigated for their specific connection between use and the development of childhood cancer.

A statistical analysis conducted by researchers found that use of any carcinogenic pesticides within 4,000m (~2.5 miles) during a mother’s pregnancy increases the odds of the child developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia nearly two-fold and three-fold, respectively. Urea-based herbicides, such as diuron and linuron, are found to be particularly troubling, substantially increasing the risk of childhood cancer.

Scientists also considered the cancer connection for several pesticides not considered carcinogenic by EPA, but widely used in California. Among those, glyphosate and and paraquat dichloride were both found to increase the risk of leukemia.

Previous studies by this team of researchers, using a similar GIS-based investigation, found that ambient exposure to agricultural pesticides increased the risk of a child developing autism spectrum disorder, a finding that is also backed up by a 2014 study from the University of California, Davis. These findings also confirm epidemiologic study findings of increased risk of childhood leukemia for women who reported pesticide use during pregnancy.  A 2015 study conducted in the Midwest, and focused on farming communities, finds that crop density in a particular community is associated with the risk of childhood cancer.

With growing awareness that EPA permits carcinogenic pesticides to be sprayed in our communities and on our food, more and more individuals are choosing to go organic. Long-term research finds organic practices return higher yields than chemical farming, and do not use the same highly toxic pesticides as their conventional counterparts. Because organic farms are also likely to sell their produce locally, studies find they are a boon for local economies. In order to stop the rampant poisoning of rural communities, we need to increase the number of organic farms. Help drive demand for this transition by purchasing organic whenever possible. Read more about the benefits of organic agriculture on Beyond Pesticides’ Why Organic program page.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health

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