Neuroblastoma Links to Home Pesticides & Agriculture

by Richard Pressinger, M.Ed.
Wayne Sinclair, M.D.
Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
email: [email protected]

Neuroblastoma Research Index
Click any topic below for information

The Chlordane Problem
Evidence linking neuroblastoma with homes containing the pesticide chlordane
What is Neuroblastoma?
Explains some basic information regarding this type of cancer
Neuroblastoma Case Histories
Doctors believe these child neuroblastoma cases resulted from chlordane exposure
Defective Immune Systems
Weak immune systems are unable to eliminate cancer cells fast enough in neuroblastoma patients, thereby allowing cancer cells to continue increasing in numbers.
Living Near Agriculture Increases Child Cancer Rates

Vapor drift coming from pesticide applications on crops suspected to be the cause
Home Pesticide Applications Linked to Neuroblastoma
Using pesticides in and around homes has been found to increase the risk of developing neuroblastoma.  This study is one of the largest and most thorough to date including efforts from over 7 Universities and research agencies. 
Job Occupations Associated with Increased Risk of Neuroblastoma
Parents working in job occupations with higher than average chemical exposures have an increased risk of having children with neuroblastoma.
Chemotherapy Conflict of Interest
Currently there is no research demonstrating that chemotherapy can benefit children with neuroblastoma (in fact, research suggests it may accelerate progression of the disease due to immune weakening effects).  If this is true - why is this treatment suggested for children with neuroblasoma?  This article from the New York Times discusses a serious financial conflict of interest facing oncologists and one that needs to be known by parents of children with this disease.

National Child Cancer Survey
If your child has cancer, please take 15 minutes to fill out this important questionnaire which is attempting to identify primary chemical and environmental exposures that are increasing the risk of  child cancers.  If you do this for us we will email you within 24 hours an assessment of your circumstances and send you the results of the project when it is completed.  Our results to date are finding a pattern will help encourage further investigation.

About Neuroblastoma
Neuroblastoma is one of the most common cancers affecting children today, forming 8%-10% of the total seen from birth through age 14 years.  It is a solid tumor seen most often in the newborn period and the median age at diagnosis is 2 years. It has a wide range of "virulence"; children with localized neuroblastoma can be cured by surgery alone but those with bone metastases usually have a fatal outcome (CANCER, 59:1853-1859, 1987). It is a disease in which cancer cells are found in certain nerve cells within the body. Neuroblastoma typically begins in the abdominal area either in the adrenal gland (located just above the kidney) or around the spinal cord in the neck, chest, or pelvis. As the prognosis for neuroblastoma patients is not encouraging, (40% of 124 children did not survive after two years and 65% of patients did not survive 3 years),  it is important to identify all environmental circumstances that can contribute to the disease, once these are identified, they can be removed, thereby improving the likelihood for spontaneous remission.

Neuroblastoma and Chlordane
The following report provides evidence linking the common child cancer called neuroblastoma with exposure to the termite pesticide chlordane. Although the use of chlordane use was stopped in April of 1988, U.S. Air Force and Department of New Jersey Environmental Regulation research shows it is still being found in the air of approximately 75% of homes built before 1988 and at dangerously high levels in approximately 7% of pre-1988 homes. Evidence below discusses how neuroblastoma cancers are appearing in homes treated with the pesticide chlordane.


Neuroblastoma Linked to the Termite Pesticide Chlordane
SOURCE: Scandinavian Journal of Work & Environ. Health, 4:137-150, 1978

Children with neuroblastoma were diagnosed at a single pediatric hospital between December 1974 and February 1976. During this period, a total of 14 cases of neuroblastoma were admitted. A history of exposure to toxic agents indicates that five cases had prior exposure to chlordane formulations. These cases are outlined below:

Case #1
2 year old girl dies from neuroblastoma

A two year and eight month-old girl was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in December 1974. A biopsy confirmed neuroblastoma of the right adrenal glad involving the kidney. Both organs were removed. The child was given radiation treatment and chemotherapy. She died in September 1976. During the first trimester of gestation, the 28 year old mother’s home was treated for termite infestation with over 100 gallons of a 1% chlordane formulation. On the outside of the house, the entire perimeter was treated with subsurface injection, and the ground surface also was sprayed in an area extending up to about two feet out from the house. On the inside of the house, holes were drilled into the cement blocks in the basement, chlordane was injected into the holes and the holes were re-cemented. The mother states that the odor from the pesticide was offensive inside the house, and, since she was concerned about the possible effects on the developing fetus, she slept at a neighbor’s home on the evening of the first day of application. The mother returned home on the second day but stated the odor was very strong for 3-4 days, but was noticeable for two weeks after the initial treatment.

Case #2
Neuroblastoma affects 4 year old boy

A four year old boy entered the hospital in July of 1975 with a two week history of lethargy, decreased appetite, and right leg pain. Abdominal palpation and subsequent diagnostic x-rays showed a mass in the right paravertebral area. Exploratory surgery revealed a tumor in what is called  as the right paravertebral area, with metastases to regional lymph nodes. A biopsy of the bone marrow showed malignant cells. This was categorized as a stage IV neuroblastoma. A history of exposure to toxic substances revealed that the mother had been exposed to chlordane during her entire pregnancy. One year prior to conception, the house was treated with chlordane for roach infestation. The pest control operator returned every six months to spray under the sink and baseboards.

Case #3
4 year old girl develops neuroblastoma

A four year old girl was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in November 1975. Two weeks before admission to the hospital, the child experienced abdominal pain. At the time of hospitalization, a mass was detected in her upper right quadrant. An abnormal left kidney was also detected although no abnormalities were seen with the bone marrow. When the child was 23 months old, the parents moved into a newly purchased home. Prior to their moving, the newly acquired house was treated for termites by the spraying of chlordane around the baseboards and on the inside of the kitchen cupboards. Holes were also drilled into the basement walls and chlordane was injected via high pressure into the ground. Holes were then sealed with cement. A history of prior illness revealed that the child had a urinary infection at ages 18 and 24 months, at which time diagnostic x-rays were made. The child was also x-rayed because of trauma to the head in May 1974.

Case #4
Limping is first evidence of neuroblastoma in 3 year old

The first evidence of neuroblastoma in a 3 year old boy included limping and general changes in gait five weeks prior to admission to the hospital. X-rays and bone scans showed involvement of several areas of the skeleton, particularly the skull and long bones. Bone marrow tests found and almost complete replacement of the marrow cells by clumps of tumor cells which were consistent with neuroblastoma (stage IV). Two years prior to the child’s birth and also when he was two years old, the house was treated for termite infestation with chlordane, with the usual procedures for application.

Case #5
Leg pains first evidence of neuroblastoma in 6 year old girl

A six year old girl was diagnosed in February 1976 as having neuroblastoma, stage IV. The child developed leg and hip pains two months prior to admission. Subsequent bone marrow analysis indicated tumor cells which were identified as neuroblastoma. Because of an ant infestation, the father purchased a container of chlordane dust which he applied several times around the outside foundation of the house in the autumn of 1973, which the child was three years and eight months of age. The process was repeated in the spring of 1974.

Of the nine additional cases of neuroblastoma, history of exposure to chlordane is not known, because no formal study has yet been conducted.

Because of the strong links of neuroblastoma and chlordane, it is very important that patient’s with neuroblastoma who are living in a home built before 1988 have their home tested for chlordane.

For more information on cancer and illnesses linked to chlordane and methods for testing chlordane the air – please visit our website our chlordane information website


Immune System Defects Found in Neuroblastoma Patients

Several major research studies are discussed below which have found immune system defects in children with neuroblastoma.  The significance of this becomes apparent once it is understood that the immune system is responsible for removing cancer cells from the body.  In other words, with an effective immune system - cancer cells would be recognized and immediately removed  from the body, however, with an immune system weakened by pesticides or other chemicals - cancer cells are not removed from the body, and therefore, would be able to grow and develop, eventually resulting in death.

Natural Killer Cells in Neuroblastoma
SOURCE: Archives of Surgery, 124:235-239, 1989

The following research shows how scientists can easily cause rapid growth of neuroblastoma in test animals by intentionally weakening the animal's immune system.

Cancer Cell Under Attack by T-CellsNatural Killer Cells are one type of immune system cell in the human body which has been found to directly attack neuroblastoma cancer cells.  The photograph at right shows properly working immune system cells called Cytotoxic T-Lymphocytes attacking a cancer cell.  But, unfortunately, in some people, these immune system cells are not working properly.

In the following research, doctors at the Harrison Department of Surgical Research and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, set up a study to determine just how important Natural Killer Cells actually were in eliminating neuroblastoma. 

Their study was conducted as follows:

Scientists set up three groups of mice. 

  • Group 1 served as a "control group" which was injected with neuroblastoma cells and nothing else.  

  • Group 2 was injected with both neuroblastoma cells and then given a treatment with what is called "antiserum to asialo GM-1," which has been found to remove healthy Natural Killer Cells from circulation. 

  • Group 3 also received the neuroblastoma cell injection, but was given a treatment with antibodies called   "anti-Lyt-2," which has been found to remove another type of "attack" immune system cells called Cytotoxic T-Lymphocytes (the type of immune cells seen in the photograph at top). 

So now we have 3 groups of mice - all given neuroblastoma by injection and two of the groups given treatments with compounds that weaken their immune systems by literally lowering the numbers of Natural Killer Cells or Cytotoxic T-Lymphocytes.

After 21 days the following observations were noted with the mice.

(injected with cancer cells only)
Showed a 5% death rate from neuroblastoma

(injected with cancer cells and the NK cell lowering antiserum GM-1)
Showed a 45% death rate from neuroblastoma

(injected with cancer cells and the Cytotoxic T-Cell lowering antibody Lyt-2)
Showed a 38% death rate from neuroblastoma

In conclusion, the scientists stated,

"Depletion with anti-asialo GM-1 resulted in rapid tumor growth and significantly increased mortality by day 21 after inoculation, compared with control mice.  These effects were relatively more pronounced than depletion of Lyt-2-positive cells, suggesting that Natural Killer Cells may have a greater regulatory role than Cytotoxic T-Lymphocytes in untreated animals."

This study demonstrates the importance of having a properly functioning  immune sytem to insure the elimination of cancer cells as they grow within the body.   Unfortunately, many chemical compounds have been found to weaken immune system function - inlcuding pesticides used in agriculture and the pesticide chlordane, whose trace residues are still routinely found in indoor air in homes built prior to April, 1988.

John V. Reynolds, Jianshou, M.D., Hoon Choi, M.D., Robert Sigal, M.D., Moritz M. Ziegler, M.D. John M.Daly, M.D.
Department of Surgery, The Harrison Department of Surgical Research
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia
Joseph Stokes, Jr. Research Institute
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Archives of Surgery, 124:235-239, 1989

The pesticide chlordane has been found to cause serious paralysis of immune system function. For more details on this and other problems caused by chlordane, as well as methods for reducing levels of  chlordane and testing for chlordane - please visit the Chlordane Information Website at

PLEASE HELP - When you have about 15 minutes,  please help us pinpoint the primary environmental causes of neuroblastoma by completing this questionnaire survey at - write down this address if now is not a good time so you can complete it later.  We are finding an interesting pattern among respondents that we will share with people who complete the survey.

Thank you - CHEM.TOX.COM Child Cancer Research Project


Living Near Agriculture Increases Cancer Risk
SOURCE:  American Journal of Public Health, 86(9):1289-1296

Although neuroblastoma was not the type of cancer found elevated in this study design, high brain cancer rates were found for people living near a cranberry agricultural growing area in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health compared the home locations of approximately 1000 cancer patients to the home locations of 1000 patients dying of illnesses not related to cancer. Results showed that living within 2600 feet of the cranberry growing area resulted in twice the risk for all brain cancers and nearly a 7-fold increased risk for a type of brain cancer known as astrocytoma. (Astrocytomas are in the family of "glioma" cancers which begin in the glial tissue (glial tissue are the cells which hold the other brain cells together).

Note: In children, astrocytomas often occur in the brain stem, the cerebrum, and the cerebellum.  A grade III astrocytoma is sometimes called an anaplastic astrocytoma.  A grade IV astrocytoma is usually called a glioblastoma multiforme.  Doctors often refer to brain tumors by grade - from low grade (grade I) to high grade (grade IV).  Cells from higher grade tumors are more abnormal looking under a microscope and usually grow faster and are more malignant than lower grade tumors.

Aschengrau-A; Ozonoff-D; Coogan-P; Vezina-R; Heeren-T; Ahang-Y
Boston University School of Public Health, Massachusetts


Neuroblastoma Linked to Homes Treated with Pesticides
SOURCE:  Epidemiology: 12(1):20-26, January, 2001

One of the largest studies to date has found that pesticide use around the home can more than double the chance of a child developing neuroblastoma.

Neuroblastoma accounts for approximately 10% of all childhood tumors.  There are 550 new cases in the United States each year, with an annual incidence rate of 9.2 cases per million children under 15 years of age.  This works out to approximately 1 per 100,000 children under age 15 on a national level.  (These rates were reported in the book "Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology, Lippincott-Raven, 1997).  It is a very serious cancer as approximately 60% of children over age 1 who develop neuroblastoma do not live 3 years even when receiving treatments of radiation and chemotherapy.  Children under age 1 have a more positive prognosis.  As statistics show that neuroblastoma rates have increased over the past 50 years, it is reasonable to assume environmental factors may be involved.

One of the largest collaborative efforts among 7 Universities and medical facilities worked together to determine what extent pesticide use in the home could increase child neuroblastoma rates.  390 neuroblastoma children and 460 non-cancer controls were included in the study.  Investigators questioned both parents regarding use of pesticides in and around the home.  

Results showed that using pesticides in and around the home resulted in a 60% increased likelihood of children developing the disease (Odds Ratio=1.6).   Looking at pesticide use for the lawn and garden only resulted in an increased risk of 120% (Odds Ratio=2.2) when the mother had applied pesticides in the yard and 50% higher (Odds Ratio=1.5) when the father had applied pesticides in the yard. (Chem-Tox Note: Outdoor pesticides are much different from indoor pesticides as they include fungicides and herbicides some of which have been reported to contain dioxin).

Julie L. Daniels, Andrew F. Olshan, Kay Teschke, Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Dave A. Savitz, Julie Blatt, Melissa L. Bondy, Joseph P. Neglia, Brad H. Pollock, Susan L. Cohn, A. Thomas Look, Robert C. Seeger, Robert P. Castleberry
Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, University of British Columbia, University of Texas, University of Minnesota, University of Florida, Northwestern University, Department of Experimental Oncology, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and University of Alabama


Job Occupations Suggest Link to Neuroblastoma in Children
SOURCE:  American Journal of Epidemiology, 1998 Jun;147(11 Suppl):S86

It has been suggested that parental occupational exposures may increase the risk of neuroblastoma in offspring. Previous studies reported an association with paternal work in farming, and for mothers or fathers working as electricians or in electronics assembly and repair. In order to evaluate parental occupation, we conducted a large multicenter case-control study. Cases included 539 children diagnosed with neuroblastoma (1992-1996) at 140 hospitals that are members of the Children's Cancer Group or Pediatric Oncology Group. One age-matched control per case was selected by random-digit telephone dialing. Telephone interviews conducted with both parents included a lifetime occupational history. Industries and occupations were grouped to reflect similar tasks and exposures. Conditional logistic regression was used to estimate the odds ratio (OR) and 95% confidence interval (CI) for each occupational group, with adjustment for mother's race, age, education, and income.

Elevated odds ratios were found for paternal employment as:
(Note: Odds ratio is a term used to give meaning to the risk of an environmental exposure. For example, if 1 in 1000 children typically get neuroblastoma, then an odds ratio of 3.0 means that under these conditions 3 in 1000 children would have neuroblastoma.)

1.  Electric power installers and power plant operators (OR = 2.7; CI: 0.9-8.1)
2.  Broadcast, telephone and dispatch operators (OR = 6.1; CI: 0.7-50.9)
3.  Landscapers and groundskeepers (OR = 2.3; CI: 1.0-5.2)
4.  Painters (OR = 2.1; CI: 0.9-4.8)
5.  Printers (OR = 2.6; CI: 0.5-13.9)
6.  Florists and garden store workers (OR = 2.4; CI: 0.6-9.9)
7.  Hairdressers (OR = 2.8; CI: 1.2-6.3)
8.  Electric power installers (5 cases, 0 controls), and
9.  Farm workers (OR = 2.2; CI: 0.6-8.8)

Author Address:
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
Department of Epidemiology, Chapel Hill, NC.