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DDT Slows Neurodevelopment in Babies

By Jerry Phelps
August 2006

A research study from the University of California Berkeley suggests that the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT, may slow neurodevelopment in children. An NIEHS-supported research team led by Brenda Eskenazi tested 360 children in and around Salinas, Calif. whose mothers had been exposed to DDT while doing agricultural work. There findings show a connection between DDT exposure and a decrease in a child's mental and physical abilities.

The majority of the mothers came from Mexico, where DDT use was not banned until 2000. The United States began to phase out DDT use in the early 1960s after it was linked to cancer and reproductive problems in birds. The EPA banned the pesticide in 1972.

The study measured DDT and its metabolites in the mothers' blood and analyzed psychomotor development and mental development in the children at six months, 12 months and two years of age. Eskenazi and her team found that for every tenfold increase in DDT levels among mothers, there was a drop of two to three points in the children's mental and physical scores.

In an article about the study in the Los Angeles Times, NIEHS epidemiologist Walter Rogan said the study's findings "suggest DDT has effects that no one even thought to test for back when it was in use." Although not involved in this study, Rogan has published several findings on the adverse health effects of DDT exposure in women and infants in Southeast Asia.

An abstract of the article in Pediatrics is available at the following link:

Eskenazi B, Marks AR, Bradman A, Fenster L, Johnson C, Barr DB, Jewell NP. In utero exposure to dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and Dichlorodiphenyldichloro-ethylene (DDE) and neurodevelopment among young Mexican American children. Pediatrics. 2006 Jul;118(1):233-41.

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