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Study: Exposure to PCBs and Chlorinated Pesticides Linked to Diabetes Among Mohawk Population

Contact(s):  Catherine Herman (518) 956-8150

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 29, 2007) -- Exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and chlorinated pesticides may cause diabetes, according to a study by researchers at the University at Albany's School of Public Health. The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives (Vol. 115, Issue 10, October 2007), found that there was a nearly four times greater risk of diabetes in Mohawks who had PCB levels in the top one-third of the study population.

For the study, UAlbany researchers identified individuals with diabetes based on whether or not they had been prescribed with anti-diabetes medications by a physician or had high fasting blood sugar levels. After adjusting for other known risk factors for diabetes, including age, weight, smoking, sex and blood lipids, the study found that PCBs and two pesticides -- dichloro-diphenyl-dichloroethylene (DDE) and hexachlorobenzene (HCB) -- were positively associated with an elevated incidence of diabetes in the cross-sectional study of an adult Mohawk population.

"These results emphasize how important it is to get these contaminants out of our food supply and our environment," said David Carpenter, a senior author of the study and director of the Institute for Health and Environment at UAlbany.

According to the research, the Mohawks -- who traditionally eat local fish -- live downstream from three aluminum foundries that used PCBs as hydraulic fluids for many years, resulting in contamination of the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries. As a result, the Mohawks have somewhat higher levels of PCBs in their blood than does the general population without unusual exposure.

The findings are consistent with the growing body of evidence that environmental exposure to persistent organochlorine compounds increases the risk of developing diabetes.

View the full report.

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