Too many in the U.S. bury their heads in the sands about the issues, but researchers in Spain and Mozambique wondered whether indoor residual spraying (IRS) with DDT, to fight malaria-carrying mosquitoes, might produce harms to children in those homes. They studied the issue in homes sprayed with DDT in Mozambique.
It turns out that young mothers ingest DDT and pass a significant amount of it to their children when the children breast feed.
The study itself is behind Elsevier’s mighty paywall, but the abstract from Chemosphere is available at no cost:
Concentration of DDT compounds in breast milk from African women (Manhiça, Mozambique) at the early stages of domestic indoor spraying with this insecticide
Received 6 November 2010;
revised 19 March 2011;
accepted 1 June 2011.
Available online 20 July 2011.
Breast milk concentrations of 4,4′-DDT and its related compounds were studied in samples collected in 2002 and 2006 from two populations of mothers in Manhiça, Mozambique. The 2006 samples were obtained several months after implementation of indoor residual spraying (IRS) with DDT for malaria vector control in dwellings and those from 2002 were taken as reference prior to DDT use. A significant increase in 4,4′-DDT and its main metabolite, 4,4′-DDE, was observed between the 2002 (median values 2.4 and 0.9 ng/ml, respectively) and the 2006 samples (7.3 and 2.6 ng/ml, respectively, p < 0.001 and 0.019, respectively). This observation identifies higher body burden intakes of these compounds in pregnant women already in these initial stages of the IRS program. The increase in both 4,4′-DDT and 4,4′-DDE suggest a rapid transformation of DDT into DDE after incorporation of the insecticide residues. The median baseline concentrations in breast milk in 2002 were low, and the median concentrations in 2006 (280 ng/g lipid) were still lower than in other world populations. However, the observed increases were not uniform and in some individuals high values (5100 ng/g lipid) were determined. Significant differences were found between the concentrations of DDT and related compounds in breast milk according to parity, with higher concentrations in primiparae than multiparae women. These differences overcome the age effect in DDT accumulation between the two groups and evidence that women transfer a significant proportion of their body burden of DDT and its metabolites to their infants.
► DDT increases in pregnant women at the start of indoor spraying with this compound. ► Rapid transformation of DDT into DDE occurs in women after intake of this insecticide. ► The DDT increases in breast milk of women due to indoor spraying are not uniform. ► Breast milk DDT content in primiparae women is higher than in multiparae women. ► Women transfer a high proportion of their DDT and DDE body burden to their infants.
“Primiparae” women are those with one child, their first; “multiparae” women are those who have delivered more than one child.
Without having read the study, I suggest there are a few key points this research makes:
- Claims that DDT has been “banned” from Africa and is not in use, are patently false.
- Spraying poisons in homes cannot be considered to have no consequences; poisons in in very small concentrations get into the bodies of the people who live in those homes.
- We should not cavalierly dismiss fears of harms to humans from DDT, because it appears that use of even tiny amounts of the stuff exposes our youngest and most vulnerable children.
- Beating malaria has no easy, simple formula.
Women, even poor women in malaria-endemic areas, should not have to worry about passing poisonous DDT or its breakdown products to their children, through breastfeeding. The national Academy of Sciences was right in 1970: DDT use should be stopped, and work should be hurried to find alternatives to DDT.
- PubMed reference to the study
- Abstract of a 2010 article in Science of the Total Environment, showing significant DDT exposures in all aspects of households treated with DDT in IRS
- Abstract of a 1991 study published in the Central African Journal of Medicine showing significant DDT exposure from breast milk from mothers in Zimbabwe
- PubMed article explaining DDT was reintroduced to Mozambique in 2005, after a determination that local mosquito populations were susceptible to DDT