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Daily News Blog

09
Feb

Pesticide Use During Pregnancy Increases Childhood Risk of Ear Infections

(Beyond Pesticides, February 9, 2022) Insecticide use during pregnancy significantly increases the occurrence of Otitis Media (OM) in infants, according to research published in Scientific Reports from a team of Japanese researchers late last month. Otitis Media, an infection of the space behind the ear drum, is a common disease among children. While most infections go away on their own, some children experience pain, fever, and in some cases complications that result in hearing loss. This research underscores the myriad of dangers and diseases that pesticide use can precipitate, which are not considered under risk assessments conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Scientists collected their initial data from the ongoing Japan Environment and Children’s Study, a national birth cohort study that evaluates environmental factors affecting children’s health in Japan. Data recorded include factors such as maternal age, birth weight, and gestation weeks, and mothers provided answers to a range of questionnaires, including one relating to exposure to insecticides during pregnancy. Study authors utilized a range of other covariates to control for further risk factors, such as family history of OM, living with other siblings, nursery attendance, parental smoking habits, and others.

The study determined that OM during an infant’s first year of life is most closely associated with insecticide use more than one time per week between conception and the first trimester of pregnancy. Insecticide use in the second and third trimester is not associated with OM. Researchers speculate that insecticide use causes OM due to weakened immune function in exposed individuals.

This is the first study to show a connection between ear infections in young children and pesticide exposure during pregnancy. Prior research, however, has provided some indication that pesticides can harm the ears and affect hearing. A 2020 study published in the Annals of Work Exposures and Health found that farmworkers exposed to a combination of pesticides and noise from agricultural machinery were at increased risk of hearing loss.

Roughly 1 in 5 children experience several episodes of OM in short spans during early life. The cost of these treatments can add up significantly, accounting for several billion dollars in health care costs. Additionally, “[p]reventing OM decreases the burden that is placed on parents who have to visit clinics and take time off work,” the authors indicate.

Results highlight the hidden risks that individuals tacitly accept when applying a substance intended to kill life. Chemicals like the increasingly common synthetic pyrethroid class of insecticides can remain on hard surfaces for over a year, providing continual, chronic exposure. These exposures can weaken immune system functioning and make individuals more susceptible to infection and other diseases.

Pregnant mothers, fetuses, and young children are at greatest risk from household pesticide use, as evidenced by a large and growing body of research. Exposure during and after pregnancy has been associated with increased risk of cancers, including infant leukemia and childhood brain tumors. Pregnant mothers exposed to pesticides are more likely to have preterm births and low birth weight, children with motor development problems, as well as children who go on to develop ADHD. These impacts are perhaps unsurprising given studies that show over 100 different chemicals detectable in pregnant women, including new or unknown compounds.

In general, this research does not distinguish between specific types of pesticides – at most breaking down exposures into basic pesticide types (e.g., herbicide, insecticide, fungicide). Thus, these tests are generally not reviewed by EPA during pesticide evaluations, and the agency rarely considers these cryptic chronic diseases that pesticide exposure can bring about. Under a precautionary approach, pesticides with evidence of chronic damage to pregnant women or young children would be denied registration for use. But EPA’s approach to tackling these problems has relied on simply reducing recommended application rates through “safety factors.” Moreover, the agency often doesn’t even follow this lackluster approach when the pesticide industry becomes involved.  

Pregnant women and households with young children are strongly encouraged to avoid all use or exposure to any pesticide products. Eating healthy, organic food is another factor that can reduce exposure and improve children’s well-being. New and expecting families can find more resources to keep your home child-safe on the Materials for New Parents webpage. For more information on the range of diseases associated with pesticide use, see Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide Induced Diseases Database.

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

Source: Scientific Reports

Image Source: Luca Prasso, Flikr

 

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