The team also found that the longer the children nursed, the better they scored on developmental tests, despite the fact that DDT is also transmitted through breast milk. This was the case even with mothers who had high accumulations of the pesticide in their bodies, a finding that suggests that the benefits of nursing may outweigh the potentially harmful effects of DDT transmission through mother's milk.
The study is the first to examine the effects of maternal levels of DDT, rather than its breakdown products, on child neurodevelopment that is, the development of mental and physical skills. At a time when health authorities around the world are considering increasing use of this pesticide to combat malaria, the study is one of the first to suggest that DDT may be harmful to child development. As such, it provides important health information for decision makers, said Brenda Eskenazi, the study's lead author.
"People need to consider these data if they are going to continue using DDT or reintroduce it in countries where it's been banned," said Eskenazi, a professor of epidemiology and maternal and child health at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health. "Given the impact of malaria on child health, I'm not saying that we shouldn't use it. But if we do, we need to think of ways to protect women and children."
The study is published in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Eskenazi and her team measured blood levels of DDT and one of its breakdown products, DDE, in 360 pregnant women. Then they tested the mental and physical skills of the women's babies at six, 12 and 24 months using tes
Contact: Liese Greensfelder
University of California - Berkeley