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Pesticides and Leukemia in Children

by Dr. Randy


Children exposed to pesticides, including shampoos for head lice and household insecticides, double their risk of acquiring leukemia according to a study conducted by Inserm, France’s national institute for medical research (Menegaux, 2006). Researchers looked at 280 children diagnosed with acute leukemia matched with 288 children matched for sex and age without the disease. Mothers were interviewed concerning their use of insecticides in the home and garden and the use of head lice shampoos. Children exposed during pregnancy or during childhood were twice as likely as likely to develop leukemia, cancer of blood cells, than children not exposed.

The study examined three types of exposure: (1) insecticide use inside the home, (2) insecticide use in the garden, and (3) a history of treatment with head lice shampoo. The active ingredient in the head lice shampoos was either pyrethroid based (65 cases), organochlorine based lindane (6 cases), or organophosphorus based malathion (5 cases). The authors cite six previous studies that revealed an association between home pesticide use during pregnancy or childhood and childhood acute leukemia. Three studies of garden pesticide use showed the same association with leukemia, but three other studies failed to show any association. This is the first study to examine the effects of direct childhood pesticide exposure due to insecticidal shampoos.

The authors conservatively conclude that “the consistenciy of our results and the results from previous studies suggests that it may be opportune to consider preventive action.” They do not suggest what this action should be.

I urge parents seek alternatives to head lice treatment and to avoid the use of all pesticides and weed killers in the home, garden, lawns, and at schools. Encourage schools to use alternative methods for weed control, and use safe products for controlling insects in your home and garden. Citrus sprays work well for controlling ants, and soap solutions will control pests in gardens. Many books discuss nontoxic approaches that avoid exposure to poisons, toxins, and harmful chemicals in the home. Here are a few.

Chemical-Free Kids: How to Safeguard Your Child’s Diet and Environment by Allan Magaziner, et al. (Twin Streams Books, 2003, 304 pages). Excellent discussions of pesticides, fake and toxic foods, avoiding toxins in the home environment, and eating organic foods, with many recipes for children’s meals and snacks.

Guide to Natural Baby Care: Nontoxic and Environmentally Friendly Ways to Take Care of Your New Child by Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet, Mindy Pennybacker and Aisha Ikramuddin (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1999, 320 pages). Thousands of suggestions for raising children in natural, nontoxic, and environmentally friendly surroundings. Covers baby equipment, pollutants in the home, babyproofing, and more.

Home Safe Home: Protecting Yourself and Your Family from Everyday Toxics and Harmful Household Products in the Home by Debra Lynn Dadd (Jeremy P Tarcher, 1997, 430 pages) Simple suggestions to replace toxic products with simple, natural do-it-yourself formulas.

Menegaux F, et al. Household exposure to pesticides and risk of childhood acute leukaemia. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2006; 63:131-134.