Pesticide exposures puts stop to second-generation Yaqui girls ability to breastfeed


By Terri Hansen
Environment and Science Writer
Sonora Valley, Mexico (NFIC)

 The problems began ominously with the Yaqui pueblo peoples who accepted pesticide practices during the 1950s.

Long-term research led by Professor Elizabeth Guillette, Ph.D., of the University of Florida found compelling proof that exposure to pesticides has produced negative health impacts over the years to the exposed Native American Yaqui communities.

Her latest research findings indicate some pre-adolescent daughters of mothers exposed to pesticide spraying will never be able to breast feed their babies—ever.

With others there is uncertainly. Although there is breast growth some daughters have not developed the mammary tissue needed to produce milk, or have developed a minimal amount.

As the pesticide-exposed girls matured, breast size became much larger than normal, yet they had less mammary tissue and often none at all, while the unexposed girls were normal.

“Some of the most devastating injustices [are] visited on indigenous farming communities around the world,” said the Magazine of Pesticide Action Network in response to the study. “High exposure to pesticides suffered by many indigenous peoples is a frequent indicator of these injustices.”

Guillette’s peer-reviewed research, published in the March 2006 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, proves pesticide exposures can cross generations and negatively affect the daughters of mothers exposed to the spraying of agricultural chemicals. Her research parallels a large study done in India that used her techniques that showed the exact same results.

“The results underscore the importance of women protecting themselves from manufactured chemicals beginning at birth because they stay in the body,” Guillette says.

The intensive industrial agricultural pesticide approach, called the “Green Revolution,” was born in the Yaqui homeland, in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora’s Yaqui Valley.

The poverty-stricken Yaqui split between the valley Yaqui who agreed to accept pesticides and other agricultural toxicants, and grow wheat treated with pesticides for export and for other purposes. The other Yaqui removed themselves to the foothills, avoiding pesticide use or exposure.

Guillette, a colleague of Theo Colborn, Ph.D., lead author of “Our Stolen Future” – a book that brought widespread attention to hormonal changes called endocrine disruption being wrought to wildlife and humans by common contaminants – said her own interest was piqued by the changes Colborn first noted in wildlife. Another anthropologist referred her to the Sonoma Yaqui Valley, where research was promising with two groups virtually identical except for their exposures to pesticides.

Guillette’s first long-term study, published in the journal EHP in 1999, tested Yaqui children aged four and five. Study results indicated key differences between the two populations. The children in the affected population had problems with fine motor skills such as hand-eye coordination, balance, short-term memory, simple problem solving and even the ability to draw a human figure.

“The future of our society depends on today’s children," warns Guillette. "Preventative action to protect them from contamination must occur now, including individual, national and global levels.”