The use of DDT has been banned in the United States for over forty years, but its toxic effects continue to run rampant. A study utilizing blood samples of pregnant women from fifty years ago found that the daughters of women who had higher levels of DDT in their bodies while pregnant were four times as likely to develop breast cancer. The study, published in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, utilized certain data from a larger research project that has been tracking nearly 15,000 mothers, daughters, and granddaughters in the Bay Area since the 1960s. Genetic mutations, diet and exercise, and obesity have also been linked with breast cancer, but for many cases (much to the frustration of doctors and patients), there’s no known cause.
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The study accounted for family history and age and still found the compelling link, which will continue to be studied as a third generation of women reach child-bearing age. One theory regarding this heightened risk of breast cancer is that DDT mimics estrogen and that prenatal exposure to the toxin changes how breast tissue grows, increasing a woman’s risk even decades later. At the time that the first blood samples were gathered, virtually every single woman in the study had measurable levels of DDT, which was heavily used from the mid 1940s through the 1960s and was touted as an effective insect-killer. Unfortunately, it also caused a decline in the populations of several bird species and was eventually phased out in this country, although DDT’s alarming and steep turn into disfavor makes us wonder and worry about what is being called “ok” today by powerful private entities and the government and what will tomorrow be known for its toxicity. DDT remains in use in certain parts of Africa and Asia, where it is frequently used to prevent malaria-carrying mosquitoes from entering homes.