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Your Environment. Your Health.

Prenatal DDT Exposure Associated with High Blood Pressure in Adults

Michele La Merrill, Ph.D., Barbara A. Cohn, Ph.D.
University of California-Davis, Public Health Institute
NIEHS Grants K99ES019919, R01ES013736


NIEHS grantees report that women who experienced high levels of prenatal exposure to the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) were more likely to develop hypertension as adults. Other studies have linked DDT exposure with hypertension, but the new finding suggests the association might originate in early development.


More than 40 years after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of DDT, the pesticide remains an important and persistent environmental exposure. In the United States, traces of DDT can still be found in some foods — primarily fatty animal products — and the pesticide is still used to control malaria in other parts of the world, including India and South Africa.


The researchers examined concentrations of p,p'- and o,p'-DDT and its metabolite p,p'-DDE in blood samples collected from 527 women who were part of the prospective Child Health and Development Studies birth cohort. These women were pregnant between 1959 and 1967. The researchers also surveyed the adult daughters of those women to learn if they had developed hypertension. The investigators found that, even after adjusting for other hypertension risk factors, prenatal p,p'-DDT exposure was associated with hypertension. The adjusted hazard ratios for the middle and highest tertiles of prenatal p,p’-DDT exposure compared with the lowest tertile were 3.6 [95 percent confidence interval (CI): 1.8, 7.2] and 2.5 [95 percent CI: 1.2, 5.3], respectively.


Citation: La Merrill M, Cirillo PM, Terry MB, Krigbaum NY, Flom JD, Cohn BA. 2013. Prenatal exposure to the pesticide DDT and hypertension diagnosed in women before age 50: a longitudinal birth cohort study. Environ Health Perspect; doi:10.1289/ehp.1205921 [Online 12 March 2013].