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Daily News Blog

23
Feb

Father’s Exposure to Toxic Chemicals in the Workplace Increases Risk of Heart Disease in Infants

(Beyond Pesticides, February 23, 2023) A father’s exposure to occupational (work-related) chemicals, including pesticides, around the time of his partner’s pregnancy, has an association with a higher risk of infant congenital heart defects (CHDs), according to a Japanese study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine. The prevalence of infant CHDs is one of the most common genetic (congenital) diseases worldwide. However, the etiology of CHD includes both genetic and environmental factors. Heart diseases are among the leading causes of death worldwide, and heart conditions are one leading cause of disability in the U.S. Research, including this study, demonstrates environmental pollutant exposure can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including stroke, heart attack, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and cardiac arrest. Considering chemical exposure exacerbates adverse disease effects, reviews like these highlight the significance of evaluating synergism between diseases and toxic chemicals to safeguard human health. Therefore, researchers are “suggesting the importance of the management of paternal occupational exposures for the prevention of infant CHDs. Further studies using biomarkers of occupational exposure are warranted.”

To investigate the risk of CHDs in infants, researchers in this study examine fathers’ work-related exposure to toxic chemical compounds, frequency of pesticide use, and synergetic mixtures of chemical compounds. Using data from the Japan Environment and Children’s Study (JECS), researchers examined 28,866 participants and estimate an odds ratio in a logic regression to demonstrate the association with paternal occupational exposures during the three months until pregnancy. The researchers gathered CHD diagnoses for infants from medical records.

There are 175 diagnoses of CHD in infants with the number of fathers exposed to the following substances at least once a month: “11,533 for photocopying machine/laser printer, 10,326 for permanent markers, 8,226 for soluble paint/inkjet printer, 6,188 for kerosene/petroleum/benzene/gasoline, 4,173 for organic solvents, 3,433 for chlorine bleach/germicide, 2,962 for engine oil, 2,931 for insecticide, 2,460 for medical sterilizing disinfectant, 1,786 for welding fumes, 1,614 for dyestuffs, 1,247 for any products containing lead-like solder, 986 for herbicide, 919 for radiation/radioactive substances/isotopes, 837 for lead-free solder, 341 for microbes, 319 for formalin/formaldehyde, 301 for an agricultural chemical not listed above or unidentified, 196 for general anesthetic for surgery at a hospital, 171 for an anti-cancer drug, 147 for chromium/arsenic/cadmium, 88 for mercury and 833 for other chemical substances.” Thus, paternal exposure to compounds in occupation may heighten the risk of infant CHDs.

Numerous occupational hazards are associated with chemical exposure, especially among individuals with occupations that involve regular exposure to xenobiotic (foreign substance) compounds. For instance, the agricultural sector has a long-standing history of synthetic chemical use, which disproportionally affects farmworkers’ health. Furthermore, farmworkers’ children are at greater risk as their immune system response is immature and especially vulnerable to stressors from pesticide exposure. Synthetic chemicals present in pesticides can accumulate in bodies, causing an amalgamation of health effects. These effects can range from heightened risks of various cancers (i.e., prostate, hepatic, liver, etc.) and endocrine disruption to mental health problems (i.e., depression), respiratory illnesses (asthma), and many other pesticide-induced diseases. However, pesticide exposure is ubiquitous and not only confined to where applied. Pesticides and other toxic chemicals can enter homes from the workplace via clothes, shoes, and home-based personal protective equipment (PPE) and accumulate residues on laundry, on carpets, and in art/house dust. Some cases demonstrate that when levels of chemicals transported into the house are high enough to cause an adverse health effect in a resident child or spouse. Although pesticide exposure through the skin or inhalation is most prevalent among individuals working around these toxic chemicals, the general population also experiences pesticide exposure through residues in food and water resources. 

This study is one of the few studies to investigate the association between paternal occupational exposures and the risk of infant CHD and adds to the growing body of research demonstrating occupational exposure and disease risk. Additionally, this study reinforces concepts around “critical windows of exposure,” which suggests that in addition to prenatal and early-life exposure to environmental toxicants, even the period right before pregnancy can increase susceptibility to adverse health impacts. Thus, a parent’s exposure to pesticides during these critical periods is indicative of increased childhood disease risk. The etiology or cause of childhood diseases involves the interaction of multiple components, including lifestyle and genetics. However, emerging evidence indicates that environmental contaminants like pesticides (e.g., occupational exposures, air pollution, pesticides, solvents, diet, etc.) play a role in disease etiology. Pesticide contamination is widespread in all ecosystems, and chemical compounds can accumulate in human tissues resulting in chronic health effects. 

Although occupational and environmental factors, like pesticides, adversely affect human health, there are several limitations in defining real-world poisoning. Heart diseases are becoming increasingly prevalent and are the leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2022, followed by cancer. Therefore, understanding the risk that pesticide exposure plays in disease development is essential to consider since these chemicals can cause disproportionate health effects in individuals working in occupations like firefighters, farmworkers, and landscapers. With numerous diseases in the U.S. associated with pesticide exposure, reducing pesticide use is a critically important aspect of safeguarding public health and addressing cost burdens for local communities.

Policies should enforce stricter pesticide regulations and increase research on the long-term impacts of pesticide exposure. Beyond Pesticides tracks the most recent studies on pesticide exposure through our Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database (PIDD). This database supports the clear need for strategic action to shift from pesticide dependency. For more information on pesticide-related illnesses, see PIDD pages on birth/fetal effects and cardiovascular (heart) disease, among others. Solutions like buyinggrowing, and supporting organic can help eliminate the extensive use of pesticides in the environment. Organic land management and regenerative organic agriculture eliminate the need for toxic agricultural pesticides. Furthermore, given the wide availability of nonpesticidal alternative strategies, families and the occupational chemical industry can apply these methods to promote a safe and healthy environment, especially among chemically vulnerable individuals. For more information on how organic is the right choice for both consumers, and the farmworkers who grow our food, see the Beyond Pesticides’ webpage, Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture

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

Source: Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine

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