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Exposure to POPs in early-life can affect the immune and respiratory systems

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Exposure to POPs in early-life can affect the immune and respiratory systems

Current epidemiological evidence suggests that early-life exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) can adversely influence immune and respiratory systems development and this could result into reduced capacity to fight infections and increased risk to develop allergic manifestations later in life.

This is the conclusion of a review done by researchers from CREAL, which includes 41 studies and finds limited evidence for prenatal exposure to DDE, PCBs and dioxins and risk of respiratory infections. Evidence was limited also for postnatal exposure to PCBs and reduced immune response after vaccination in childhood. The first author of the paper, Mireia Gascón, adds that “although there are some indications of adverse health effects of exposure to POPs, further studies are needed in the field of immunotoxicity of these compounds, especially for those which are still in use, such as DDT in areas with endemic malaria”.

POPs are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological and photolytic processes. Because of this, they have been observed to persist in the environment, to be capable of long-range transport, bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue, biomagnify in food chains, and to have potential significant impacts on human health and the environment. Many POPs are currently or were in the past used as pesticides.

After these results, researchers keep on improving the understanding os this phenomena in order to identify critical periods of susceptibility, integration of the potential immunotoxic mechanisms of POPs, and use of new statistical tools to detangle the role of multiple exposures on multiple outcomes.

Gascon M, Morales E, Sunyer J, Vrijheid M. Effects of persistent organic pollutants on the developing respiratory and immune systems: A systematic review. Environ Int 2013; 52: 51-65.


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