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Pesticide linked to children's tumours

PARENTS who have their homes professionally treated for termites are twice as likely to have a child with a brain tumour, according to a study on childhood brain cancer.

The study by the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research led by Professor Elizabeth Milne found parents exposed to pest control treatments in their home in the year leading up to, as well as during pregnancy, faced an increased risk of having a child with a brain tumour.

"The key message is that for the period leading up to conception, as well as the pregnancy itself, parents are advised to avoid using professional pest controllers in the home," Professor Milne said.

"If you get a pest controller in for termites then the risk is two-fold higher than for other types of insect treatments."

The research which looked at 303 cases and 941 control families Australia wide, investigated brain cancer the second most common type of childhood cancer – and exposure to pesticides used for termites, insects and spiders before and during pregnancy.

Professor Milne said previous studies had found an increased risk during pregnancy but the Australian research went further, suggesting the risk also existed for pre-conception exposure.

However, there was little evidence of an associated risk to a child exposed to pesticides after birth.

"Our results indicate that professional pest control treatments in the home during the year before the index pregnancy may be associated with an increased risk of childhood brain tumours," Professor Milne said.

"The increased risk associated with termite treatments may be as high as twofold, while the increased risk with other pesticides may be about 30 per cent."

Professor Milne cautioned that the results did not mean pesticide exposure caused brain tumours in children.

"We cannot possibly say what causes brain tumours in children – there are likely to be many causes," she said.

"What we are trying to do is raise awareness of the potential for increased risk."

Executive director of the Australian Environmental Pest Managers Association Stephen Ware said there were hundreds of types of treatments for pest and termite control. He said there had been "generational change in my lifetime" in the use of chemicals in pest control with the types and amounts greatly reduced with pest controllers aware of pregnancy risks and extremely cautious in their use.

"We will review the study to see whether or not it is necessary for industry to either change the chemicals it uses and/or operational changes that may be considered necessary to mitigate risk," he said.

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