Your chance of getting high blood pressure as an adult could be tripled if you were exposed to the pesticide DDT in the womb, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. A California team tested the blood samples of mothers and mothers-to-be who had participated in Kaiser Permanente’s Child Health and Development Studies in the San Francisco Bay area from 1959 to 1967,
The lead author on the study, Michele La Merrill, said that girls born before DDT was banned in the United States were three times more likely to suffer from high blood pressure as adults. “The prenatal period is exquisitely sensitive to environmental disturbance because that’s when the tissues are developing,” she explained.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the long-lasting pesticide in 1972, primarily because of its devastating effects on wildlife. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring caused a public outcry when it documented how the pesticide was systematically wiping out formerly common fish and birds.
The EPA said that human studies continued even after the ban. While their public materials don’t address its link to high blood pressure, they have stated that US as well as international authorities classify DDT as a probable carcinogen that can cause liver tumors.
However, the debate was not over. The World Health Organization (WHO) reversed a 30-year-old policy in 2006 when it recommended the indoor use of DDT for malaria control in Africa. They advised its use only once or twice a year and only indoors. They claimed that DDT applied that way had no adverse effects on humans.
However, many scientists disputed that. For instance, a study in South Africa showed that men who lived in homes that had been sprayed had excessively high levels of DDT in their blood — and low sperm counts.
Brenda Eskenazi, a professor and DDT researcher at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health, told Scientific American that because of the proven harm to humans, “DDT should really be the last resort against malaria, rather than the first line of defense.”
The fact that prenatal exposure to DDT may triple a woman’s risk of high blood pressure is just one more reason to avoid the pesticide.
[mosquito photo by J.J. Harrison and English Wikipedia’s “Picture of the Day”]