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Chlordecone: ANSES assesses the dietary exposure of young children in Guadeloupe

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News of 12/09/2011

12 September 2011

As part of the investigations it has been pursuing since 2002 into the dietary risk associated with chlordecone, ANSES has especially been examining the dietary exposure of young children in Guadeloupe during their dietary diversification phase. The results of this study, which are published today, show that long-term exposure does not exceed tolerable toxicity thresholds. Regarding short-term exposure, the Agency's study emphasises the importance of respecting ministerial Orders governing marketing authorisations for foods.

Chlordecone is an insecticide that was previously used in the banana plantations of Martinique and Guadeloupe to combat weevils. It was banned in 1993. It is highly persistent and bioaccumulative, and is still found in soil once used for banana-growing, now given over to subsistence farming. It can thus be found in certain plant and animal-based foodstuffs, as well as in water from certain intake points.
Since 2002, ANSES has been assessing the dietary risk associated with chlordecone. As a part of this assessment, the Agency has especially emphasised the importance of characterising the dietary exposure of young children in the Caribbean during the phase of dietary diversification and the potential impact of this exposure on development. In the context of the “TIMOUN” mother-&-child cohort study conducted by INSERM, ANSES carried out a field study on the dietary habits of 18-month-old children in Guadeloupe. The Agency has been able to use the resulting data to characterise in detail the children's exposure to chlordecone and to identify the principal vectors of dietary exposure.

Exposure levels below tolerable toxicity thresholds

The calculated levels for chronic exposure of 18-month-old children in Guadeloupe do not exceed tolerable toxicity thresholds. They are lower than the levels calculated previously for older age groups. These observations can be explained by the specific nature of the diet of 18-month-old children who, although just beginning their dietary diversification phase, are still following a diet that sets them apart from the rest of the population: their principal food is still milk, which accounts for 68% of their total consumption, and they do not yet consume (or only in small quantities) any foods contaminated by chlordecone.

Concerning short-term exposure of 18-month-old children, tolerable toxicity thresholds are only exceeded in the case of Taro (known locally as dachine), and this only occurs when this food is contaminated at the highest levels observed in the RESO studies, carried out before the introduction of regulations setting maximum levels in foodstuffs. It seems clear that application of this regulation has had the effect of bringing observed values below tolerable toxicity thresholds. These figures therefore show the importance of respecting ministerial Orders (such as Orders prohibiting fishing in contaminated areas) and of monitoring the safety of produce sold.

New themes for study

During this study, which focussed on the exposure of 18-month-old children, ANSES compared exposure levels for children in different age groups. Children between the ages of 3 and 5 are the most heavily exposed. Since only limited data is available concerning the dietary habits of 3-to-5 year-olds, ANSES considers that further data should be acquired from larger numbers of subjects, to better characterise the exposure of this population group. These studies will be undertaken in the framework of the Chlordecone 2 plan (2011-2013).
Lastly, the results of the TIMOUN epidemiological study are currently being analysed by INSERM with a view to characterising the potential impact of chlordecone on child development. The conclusions of this study will enable ANSES to update its characterisation of chlordecone-related hazards and consequently to re-assess the risk of exposure of children to this substance.

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