Critical windows of exposure to household pesticides and risk of childhood leukemia

Environ Health Perspect. 2002 Sep;110(9):955-60. doi: 10.1289/ehp.02110955.


The potential etiologic role of household pesticide exposures was examined in the Northern California Childhood Leukemia Study. A total of 162 patients (0-14 years old) with newly diagnosed leukemia were rapidly ascertained during 1995-1999, and 162 matched control subjects were randomly selected from the birth registry. The use of professional pest control services at any time from 1 year before birth to 3 years after was associated with a significantly increased risk of childhood leukemia [odds ratio (OR) = 2.8; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.4-5.7], and the exposure during year 2 was associated with the highest risk (OR = 3.6; 95% CI, 1.6-8.3). The ORs for exposure to insecticides during the 3 months before pregnancy, pregnancy, and years 1, 2, and 3 were 1.8 (95% CI, 1.1-3.1), 2.1 (95% CI, 1.3-3.5), 1.7 (95% CI, 1.0-2.9), 1.6 (95% CI, 1.0-2.7), and 1.2 (95% CI, 0.7-2.1), respectively. Insecticide exposures early in life appear to be more significant than later exposures, and the highest risk was observed for exposure during pregnancy. Additionally, more frequent exposure to insecticides was associated with a higher risk. In contrast to insecticides, the association between herbicides and leukemia was weak and nonsignificant. Pesticides were also grouped based on where they were applied. Exposure to indoor pesticides was associated with an increased risk, whereas no significant association was observed for exposure to outdoor pesticides. The findings suggest that exposure to household pesticides is associated with an elevated risk of childhood leukemia and further indicate the importance of the timing and location of exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • California
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Household Products
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Leukemia / epidemiology
  • Leukemia / etiology*
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pest Control
  • Pesticides / adverse effects*
  • Registries*
  • Risk Assessment


  • Pesticides