Household Exposure to Paint and Petroleum Solvents, Chromosomal Translocations, and the Risk of Childhood Leukemia

By Scelo, Ghislaine; Metayer, Catherine et al. | Environmental Health Perspectives, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Household Exposure to Paint and Petroleum Solvents, Chromosomal Translocations, and the Risk of Childhood Leukemia


Scelo, Ghislaine, Metayer, Catherine, Zhang, Luoping, Wiemels, Joseph L., Aldrich, Melinda C., Selvin, Steve, Month, Stacy, Smith, Martyn T., Buffler, Patricia A., Environmental Health Perspectives


BACKGROUND: Few studies have examined the association between home use of solvents and paint and the risk of childhood leukemia.

OBJECTIVES: In this case-control study, we examined whether the use of paint and petroleum solvents at home before birth and in early childhood influenced the risk of leukemia in children.

METHODS: We based our analysis on 550 cases of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), 100 cases of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and one or two controls per case individually matched for sex, age, Hispanic status, and race. We conducted further analyses by cytogenetic subtype. We used conditional logistic regression techniques to adjust for income.

RESULTS: ALL risk was significantly associated with paint exposure [odds ratio (OR) = 1.65; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.26-2.15], with a higher risk observed when paint was used postanatally, by a person other than a mother, or frequently. The association was restricted to leukemia with translocations between chromosomes 12 and 21 (OR = 4.16; 95% CI, 1.66-10.4). We found no significant association between solvent use and ALL risk overall (OR = 1.15; 95% CI, 0.87-1.51) or for various cytogenetic subtypes, but we observed a significant association in the 2.0-to 5 year age group (OR = 1.55; 95% CI, 1.07-2.25). In contrast, a significant increased risk for AML was associated with solvent (OR = 2.54; 95% CI, 1.19-5.42) but not with paint exposure (OR = 0.64; 95% CI, 0.32-1.25).

CONCLUSIONS: The association of ALL risk with paint exposure was strong, consistent with a causal relationship, but further studies are needed to confirm the association of ALL and AML risk with solvent exposure.

KEY WORDS: case-control study, children, leukemia, paint, petroleum, solvents. Environ Health Perspect 117: 133-139 (2009). doi: 10.1289/ehp.11927 available via http://dx.doi.org/ [Online 10 October 2008]

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Leukemia is the most common cancer in children worldwide (0-14 years of age), with more than 2,600 cases diagnosed annually in the United States (Ferlay et al. 2004; Parkin et al. 2005). The main two historical groups are acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML), representing 80% and 13% of all cases in the United States, respectively (Parkin et al. 2005). Recently, greater heterogeneity of childhood leukemias has been recognized, and they have been subclassified according to their cytogenetics. The causes of childhood leukemia remain largely unknown, and recognized risk factors, such as genetic conditions (e.g., Down syndrome), ionizing radiation, and chemotherapeutic agents, explain only a small proportion of cases (Buffler et al. 2005).

Exposures to paint and solvents have been suggested as potential risk factors of childhood leukemia. Paint is a generic name for a number of different products, and its potential toxicity depends on the types of pigments, resins, and solvents used in its manufacture (Kirk Othmer 2006). One of the two major groups of paints is latex paints, for which the resin is acrylic-, vinyl-, or styrene-based and the solvent is water, with the customary addition of glycol ethers and coalescent aid that helps the resins flow together, aiding in film formation. The other is the alkyd paints or oil-based rein paints, in which the solvent is usually petroleum-based and organic, such as toluene or xylene. Similarly, petroleum solvents encompass a wide variety of materials derived from crude oil [International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Monograph Working Group 1989], including many that are widely used in the home, such as paint thinner, spot remover, gasoline, kerosene, and lubricating oil.

Most previous epidemiologic studies have examined the impact of paint and solvents on the risk of childhood leukemia through parental occupational exposures and have reported conflicting results (Colt and Blair 1998; Feychting et al. 2001; Infante-Rivard et al. …

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