May 2, 2001

Scientists link Bayer’s Baygon to Child Leukaemia

INFANT leukaemia has been linked to commonly-used pesticides by a team of Scottish scientists. The study showed that pregnant women who were exposed to a substance from the same family of chemicals were 10 times more likely to have a baby which developed the deadly disease than mothers who were not exposed.

Professor Freda Alexander of Edinburgh University led an international team which looked at 136 mothers from across the globe who gave birth to babies with infant acute leukaemia. Comparison with 266 mothers who had healthy babies, pointed the finger to a substance called Baygon, which comes from the carbamate family of chemicals and is used in mosquito repellent. Alexander said: "We have found this association with one specific substance Baygon, but it is unlikely to apply to just that substance. We have to look at the broader picture and look at the family of pesticides to which it belongs. Other carbamate pesticides could be risk factors. If I were pregnant I would take care to keep away from carbamate pesticides."

In her study, published in this month’s journal of Cancer Research, Alexander concludes: "Given the widespread use of Baygon and other carbamate-based insecticides in certain settings, confirmation of these apparent associations is urgently needed." The chemicals are used to kill a variety of pests including aphids, cabbage root fly, vine weevils, codling moths and earwigs.

Dr Richard Dixon, head of research at Friends of the Earth, called for the pesticides to be banned until further research is carried out. "It is certainly of great concern," said Dixon. "I think it is quite right to be suspicious of chemicals that are in the same family. Our approach would be that we should have a precautionary ban on all these chemicals until they have been tested under the same circumstances."

Experts believe the findings could offer at least a partial explanation for a series of childhood leukaemia clusters in various parts of the UK. Dixon said: "The causes of leukaemia in childhood are very complex and the prevailing theory at the moment is that there is likely to be a multitude of causes. But we should not be using these chemicals until we have cleared them."

Although treatments have improved over the years, up to 25% of children with the disease die. Those that survive have to endure punishing treatment with painful side effects. A spokesman for Bayer, who make Baygon, said: "It is very difficult to make a response as Baygon is not a product that we market in this country."
Tom Peterkin / Scotland on Sunday