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Prenatal Proximity to Certain Crops Linked to Reduced Head Circumference

(Beyond Pesticides, November 16, 2010) A French study published November 15, 2010 in the journal Environmental Health finds that pregnant women living in a municipality where peas or potatoes are grown have an increased risk of giving birth to an infant with a small head circumference. Head circumference also tends to be lower where wheat is grown, but not to statistically significant degree. The study finds no association between head circumference and proximity to other crops. The study’s authors suggest that pesticides, specifically organophosphates (OPs), are a possible cause. OPs were applied to most of the area devoted to pea and potato crops, but used less frequently in areas growing corn and wheat.

The study, “Impact on fetal growth of prenatal exposure to pesticides due to agricultural activities: a prospective cohort study in Brittany, France,” utilized a prospective birth cohort of 3421 pregnant women in a French agricultural region (Brittany, 2002-2006) through gynecologists, ultrasonographers, and maternity hospitals during routine prenatal care visits before 19 weeks of gestation. The national agricultural census in 2000 provided the percentages of the municipality area devoted to cultivation of corn, wheat, colza, peas, potatoes, and fresh vegetables.

The link between exposure to pesticides and birth outcomes, including birth weight, preterm birth and birth defects has been documented in the scientific literature and the national media. The issue received widespread attention in 2005 when three babies were born with severe birth defects in Florida to mothers who all worked for Ag-Mart Produce, a company that produces chemically-treated tomatoes and other agricultural products. In April 2009, a study by Paul Winchester, MD, published in the medical journal Acta Paediatrica reported that the highest rates of birth defects for U.S. babies arise when conception occurs during the spring and summer months, when pesticide use increases and high concentrations of pesticides are found in surface waters. The study entitled, “Agrichemicals in surface water and birth defects in the United States” was the first study to link increased seasonal concentration of pesticides in surface water with the peak in birth defects in infants conceived in the same months. Dr. Winchester presented his data at Beyond Pesticides’ 2010 National Pesticide Forum. A transcript of the talk, “Reproductive Effects Peak with Pesticide Exposure,” appears in the Fall 2010 issue of Pesticides and You.

Beyond Pesticides documents the link between pesticide exposure and health outcomes, including birth defects and fetal problems, in its Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database. The Database facilitates access to epidemiologic and laboratory studies based on real world exposure scenarios that link pesticides to asthma, autism and learning disabilities, birth defects and reproductive dysfunction, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and several types of cancer. The current database, which contains hundreds of studies, itself is preliminary and will be added to over the coming months. We urge readers to send studies to [email protected] that you think should be added to the database.


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