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Wood Preservative Contaminant Linked to Childhood Obesity

(Beyond Pesticides, August 25, 2008) A recent study by Spanish researchers has found a connection between an ncreased risk of childhood obesity and exposure to the organochlorine pesticide and contaminant hexachlorobenzene (HCB) before birth. Entitled “Exposure to hexachlorobenzene during pregnancy increases the risk of overweight in children aged 6 years,” the article was published online by Acta Paediatrica at the end of July. Found as a contaminant in the wood preservative pentachlorophenol, widely used in the U.S., HCB is extremely persistent in the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it “has been listed as a pollutant of concern to EPA’s Great Waters Program due to its persistence in the environment, potential to bioaccumulate, and toxicity to humans and the environment.”

Researchers studied 405 infants in Menorca, Spain. They measured persistent organic pollutants (HCB, PCBs, p,p’-DDE, and p,p’-DDT) in their cord blood and then measured each child’s height and weight at 6.5 years of age. “Overweight” was defined as the 85 percentile or higher on the US National Center for Health Statistics/WHO reference body mass index (BMI). They also took into account information about the mothers, such as age, education, socio-economic status, smoking, alcohol use, weight, and diet.

All 405 children studied had contaminants in their cord blood. P,p’-DDE averaged the highest level, and p,p’-DDT had the lowest. The median level of HCB was third-highest, at 0.68 ng/mL. The children in the group with highest HCB exposure also had the highest exposure to the other organochlorines, and their mothers were older and had higher BMI. The children in this group also had the highest BMI. After sorting factors like the mother’s weight during pregnancy, HCB exposure related to obesity remained significant. Children with higher exposure had a 1.7 risk of being overweight compared to the low exposure group, and a risk of 2 for obesity.

The researchers concluded, “The prevalence of obesity has increased at an alarming level of at least 300 million people worldwide. Additionally, other diseases like diabetes will increase in prevalence as well. Protection for this possible diabetes epidemic is needed. The risk on increased BMI at a young age, caused by prenatal exposure to OCs like HCB, has to be minimized. Therefore, it is important that pregnant women are informed about the possible effects on prenatal exposure to HCB on the BMI of the child later in life.”

HCB has also been linked to non-hodgkins lymphoma and behavioral disorders. EPA’s fact sheet on HCB lists a variety of health effects, as well as possible sources of exposure.

Source: Environmental Health News


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  1. 1
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