Children exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), used in a range of industrial products, could aggravate their asthma symptoms, new research suggests.
PCBs were regularly used between the 1930s and 1970s in electrical equipment, lubricants and paint additives. They were eventually phased out due to the harm they were causing to the environment and animals.
Although they are not widely used now, the toxic substance does not break down easily. It can be transported in water and air and it can exist in the environment, particularly at waste sites, for a number of years.
University of Queensland researchers examined 240 children to assess the impact PCBs are having asthma symptoms. They measured the levels of PCBs found in their blood, along with three pesticides, and also assessed prevalence of wheeze, a common symptom of asthma.
The results found that overall, those with higher levels of PCBs were more likely to report wheeze. The findings also suggest that the link between PCBs and wheeze was stronger in non-atopic (non-allergic) asthma, according to a Queensland statement.
Peter Sly, professor of pulmonology from Queensland, who led the study, said: "Despite PCBs being banned from use in many countries, people are still suffering from the effects of these toxic substances. Our findings suggest that people with high levels of the chemicals in their blood stream are suffering from higher levels of wheeze, a common asthma symptom.
"This could be due to high concentration levels being passed from a mother to a baby while in the womb, or PCBs may be ingested if a person consumes contaminated food. They could also be inhaled from contaminated hazardous waste sites," said Sly.
These findings were presented Sunday at the European Respiratory Society's Annual Congress in Vienna in Austria.