Children are put at the unnecessary risk of developing cancers when they are exposed to insecticides from sprays and foggers used in the home, a new study analyzing previous research suggests.

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A new study finds unnecessary exposure of children to pesticides poses a cancer risk.

The research team, from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, wondered if a link between pesticides and cancers in children could be identified from previous studies.

An initial search of papers identified 277 studies that met the criteria for inclusion in the analysis. From these, 16 papers were studied more closely.

Publishing in the journal Pediatrics, the authors admit that this is a low number of papers to go by, but nonetheless, the sum of their findings suggests that exposure to insecticides indoors during childhood is significantly associated with an increased risk of childhood cancers, though not tumors.

The greatest risks are specifically for acute leukemia and childhood lymphomas.

According to Wbur’s Common Health, senior author of the paper Chensheng Lu, PhD, of the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, feels that the worst exposure a child might have to insecticides indoors is from a fogger or spray can.

This is because people are more likely to be close by when indoors, and there is little dilution of the pesticide compared with sprays used outdoors.

There are pesticides in food, insect sprays, products for controlling rodents, as well as pet and lawn products. People with children are encouraged not to use toxic pesticides in the home, garden or in places where children play, while bug bombs and broad-spraying pesticides should be avoided.

Prof. Lu goes on to point out that children are particularly vulnerable as a child’s liver has not fully developed, so they “don’t have the capability or capacity to detoxify those pesticides.”

Prof. Lu offers some suggestions in the paper on how families could reduce exposure to pesticides in the home. Further advice is available from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA suggest using pesticides indoors only when necessary. Long after a pesticide has been applied, the air may still contain low levels of pesticide residue, so stay away for at least the length of time given on the label. And best of all, do not rely on pesticides as the quick-fix solution.

Additional research is needed, the authors say, to confirm the association between residential indoor pesticide exposures and childhood cancers.

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Written by Jonathan Vernon