Dec 28, 2004
Author: Nigel Hawkes
Source: London Times Newspapers LTD
HOUSEHOLD chemicals, including bleach, disinfectant and cleaning
fluid, have been blamed for the huge surge in childhood asthma in
A study of more than 7,000 children shows that children born into
households which use them most are twice as likely to suffer
persistent wheezing, often a precursor to asthma.
Incidence of the disease has tripled since the 1970s and the total
number in the country who suffer is estimated to have reached 1.4
million. Britain has one of the highest rates of wheezing children
in the world.
The study shows a clear connection between persistent wheezing and
use of a range of domestic chemicals, such as bleach, paint
stripper, carpet cleaner and air freshener. The use of household
cleaning products has soared in the past two decades: the market has
grown by 60 per cent since 1994.
The researchers are not claiming that these chemicals cause asthma
but that there is a strong link. Their results back up an Australian
study published in August.
The data comes from Bristol University¹s Children of the 90s
project, which has been following a group of children born in the
Avon area in the early 1990s. This study, published in Thorax,
correlates health with information about their homes and lifestyle.
"We are seeing what appear to be effects on lung function, either
while the baby is still in the womb or after birth," Dr Andrea
Sherriff, of the university, said. "We cannot say exactly what
chemicals are involved but our results are highly validated. We know
the participants in the study well and can rely on the information
they give us."
Before they gave birth, mothers were asked how often they used
certain chemical-based products. From these questions, their
households were divided into categories based on "total chemical
The team compared this with the incidence of wheezing in children up
to the age of 3?. Those in the top 10 per cent were more than twice
as likely to suffer persistent wheezing as those in the lowest 10
"We have since followed children to the age of 8," Dr Sherriff said.
"The effects seem to persist." The team concludes: "These findings
suggest that children whose mothers made frequent use of
chemical-based domestic products during pregnancy were more likely
to wheeze persistently throughout early childhood, independent of
many other factors."
The Australian study, based on a smaller sample, linked volatile
compounds in household chemicals with asthma. The Bristol team
suggests that the chemical formaldehyde could be a common factor.
Another possible explanation is that cleanliness itself may cause
asthma. This theory suggests that the immune systems of children
raised in over-clean environments do not develop properly. As a
result they turn against the body and trigger allergies, asthma or
Professor Andrew Peacock, of the British Thoracic Society, said:
"More long-term studies are needed before we advise pregnant women
to throw out all their air fresheners. But there are measures that
can be taken to protect yourself and your baby, such as reducing the
number of household products that you use and by wearing gloves and
keeping windows open when cleaning."
Disinfectant (used by 87.5% of households)
Air freshener (68)
Window cleaner (60.5)
Carpet cleaner (35.8)
Paint or varnish (32.9)
White spirit (22.6)
Paint stripper (5.5)
Dry-cleaning fluid (5.4)
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