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Daily News Blog

09
Feb

Pesticides in Breast Milk Linked to Over 100 Newborn Deaths in Less than a Year

(Beyond Pesticides, February 9, 2023) Business Insider India reports over 100 infant deaths from pesticide exposure in breast milk. A study by Lucknow’s Queen Mary Hospital links pesticides in breast milk to the death of 111 newborns over the past ten months in the Maharajganj district of northern India. The study is a testament to the effects pesticides can have on the health of individuals, especially vulnerable populations like infants and shows that there is a long way to go before our bodies are void of any bioaccumulated toxic residues. Multiple studies on breast milk throughout the years confirm that toxic chemicals build up in our bodies as breast milk can bioconcentrate or accumulate, a natural phenomenon dubbed chemical “body burden.” Hundreds of chemicals are in blood, urine, breast milk and umbilical cord blood, entering our bodies through diet, personal care product use, and inhalation from air.

Many known pollutants (i.e., heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyl, and pesticides) are chemicals that can move from the mother to the developing fetus at higher exposure rates. Hence, prenatal exposure to these chemicals may increase the prevalence of birth-related health consequences like natal abnormalities and learning/developmental disabilities. Children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of pesticide exposure as their developing bodies cannot adequately combat exposure effects. Moreover, a mother’s pesticide exposure can have a stronger association with health disorders than childhood exposure, and a newborn can still encounter pesticides. Therefore, it is essential to understand how pesticides impact the health and well-being of individuals during critical developmental periods.

[Beyond Pesticides has covered a variety of pregnancy risks from pesticides and other toxic chemicals, including these in just the last three years: pesticides and children’s sleep disordersprenatal exposures to a multitude of chemicalsinsecticides and childhood leukemiainsecticides and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.]

The researchers at Queen Mary Hospital evaluated breast milk samples in 130 women whose infant had died within the past ten months to determine the cause of death. Women were further separated based on diet (i.e., vegetarian and non-vegetarian). Regardless of diet, pesticides are present in maternal breast milk samples. However, non-vegetarian women have three times the number of pesticides in milk samples than vegetarian women. Researchers note, “Different types of pesticides and chemicals are put in green vegetables and crops. Animals are also injected with supplements and chemicals, which have led to pesticide formation in the milk of a woman who eats non-vegetarian food.”

Despite the discrepancy in pesticide concentrations through diet, any amount of pesticide in milk samples poses a severe health risk to newborns. Therefore, researchers attribute the increase in infant mortality to the transfer of pesticides from mother to fetus.

Pesticides’ presence in the body has implications for human health, especially during vulnerable life stages like childhood, puberty, pregnancy, and old age. Pesticide exposure during pregnancy is of specific concern as health effects for all life stages can be long-lasting. Just as nutrients are transferable between mother and fetus, so are chemical contaminants. Thus, the transfer of chemical contaminates from mother to fetus is not a new phenomenon. Studies find pesticide compounds in the mother’s blood can transfer to the fetus via the umbilical cord. A 2021 study finds pregnant women already have over 100 chemicals in blood and umbilical cord samples, including banned POPs. However, 89 percent of these chemical contaminants are from unidentified sources, lack adequate information, or were not previously detectable in humans. Considering the first few weeks of pregnancy are the most vulnerable period of fetal development, exposure to toxicants can have much more severe implications. Moreover, women living near agricultural areas experience higher exposure rates, increasing the risk of neonatal abnormalities like acute lymphoblastic leukemia and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Environmental contaminants like pesticides are ubiquitous in the environment, with 90 percent of Americans having at least one pesticide compound in their body. Many of these chemical compounds remain in soils, water (solid and liquid), and the surrounding air at levels exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. Therefore, individuals still encounter pesticide compounds at varying concentrations, adding to the toxic body burden of those toxic chemicals currently in use.

This study supports the long-known concept regarding the hazards of pesticides for children’s health. Early life exposures during “critical windows of vulnerability” can predict the likelihood or otherwise increase the chances of an individual encountering a range of pernicious diseases. Even before birth, people can carry body burdens inherited from their mothers. Scientists believe a human may host nearly 500 chemicals in various parts of the body, mainly in fatty tissue. Many chemicals break down in the human body, and while some metabolites clear the body, others remain in the body for a lifetime and can increase the risk of certain diseases. Thus, a parent’s exposure to pesticides during these critical periods indicates an increased risk of childhood disease. 

Doctors and pediatricians strongly agree that pregnant mothers should avoid pesticide exposure during critical development periods. Many contaminants are subject to regulatory standards that do not fully evaluate disease implications from exposure. Advocates say that addressing the manufacturing and use of pesticides is essential to mitigate risks from chemical exposure to toxic pesticides. Therefore, advocates urge that policies strengthen pesticide regulations and increase research on the long-term impacts of pesticide exposure. Beyond Pesticides tracks the most recent studies related to pesticide exposure through its Pesticide Induced Diseases Database (PIDD). This database supports the need for strategic action to shift away from pesticide dependency. For more information on the multiple harms of pesticide exposure, see PIDD pages on Body BurdensBirth/Fetal EffectsSexual and Reproductive Dysfunction, and other diseases.

One way to reduce human and environmental contamination from pesticides is by buyinggrowing, and supporting organic. Numerous studies find that levels of pesticide metabolites in urine significantly drop when switching to an all-organic diet. Furthermore, given the wide availability of non-pesticidal alternative strategies, families and agro-industry workers 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 consumers, see the Beyond Pesticides webpage, Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture.

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

Source: Business Insider India, Science Direct

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