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DDT’s Toxic Legacy Can Harm Granddaughters of Women Exposed, Study Shows
- Los Angeles Times
When Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” first sounded the alarm on DDT and its devastating effects on birds and fish, our understanding of how this pesticide affected humans was just beginning. Chemicals can take years to reveal their insidious power, and so for decades, scientists have been piecing together — study by study — the reasons why DDT still haunts us today.
First it was breast cancer in women who were exposed to this hormone-disrupting chemical in the 1950s and ‘60s. Then their daughters, who had been exposed in the womb. Researchers over the years have also linked DDT exposure to obesity, birth defects, reduced fertility and testicular cancer in sons.
Now, a team of toxicologists, molecular biologists and epidemiologists at UC Davis and the Public Health Institute in Oakland have confirmed for the first time that granddaughters of women who were exposed to DDT during pregnancy also suffer from significant health threats: Higher rates of obesity and menstrual periods that start before age 11.
Both factors, scientists say, may put these young women at greater risk of breast cancer — as well as high blood pressure, diabetes and other diseases.
“This is further evidence that not only is a pregnant woman and her baby vulnerable to the chemicals that she’s exposed to — but so is her future grandchild,” said Barbara Cohn, director of the Public Health Institute’s Child Health and Development Studies, a multigenerational research project in California that has followed more than 15,000 pregnant women and their families since 1959.
This persistent, generational exposure is likely related to the reproductive system, Cohn said. Since a female is born with all her eggs, a granddaughter is technically also exposed to DDT if her mother was exposed in the womb.
This is something that people had always thought was possible, but there had never been a human study to support the existence of that link. Even though we banned that stuff more than 40 years ago, people now walking the Earth — the granddaughters of those who were pregnant — were exposed.
Dr. Barbara Cohn, program director, Child Health and Development Studies
How many times have we talked about climate change and things that we need to do better for our children and grandchildren? This is more proof that hello, what we do today is going to affect people way forward. I hope this is a wake-up call for a lot of people, because we’re talking about saving the environment again, today, for our future generations.
The findings come at a time of renewed public interest in DDT, a problem that had been largely tucked into a fading chapter of history. Concerns have intensified since The Times reported last fall that the nation’s largest manufacturer of DDT once dumped as many as half a million barrels of its waste into the deep ocean.
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Originally published by Los Angeles Times