Ben Curtis/AP

Study Shows Birth Defects Highest in Babies Conceived April Through July

April 03, 2009 07:30 AM
by Liz Colville
Published in the journal Acta Paediatrica, the study suggests that pesticides and agrichemicals are to blame.

Month of Conception May Heighten Risk

The study, which is the first of its kind, was conducted by the Indiana University School of Medicine and used data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency and birth certificates of babies born in the United States between 1996 and 2002, reports Canada’s Globe and Mail.

The authors uncovered a “strong association between the increased number of birth defects in children of women whose last menstrual period occurred in April, May, June or July and elevated levels of nitrates, atrazine and other pesticides in surface water (streams and rivers) during the same period.”
For the period 1996 to 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed 22 categories of birth defects. In this study, the link between pesticides and birth defects was “statistically significant for half” of these 22 categories, including spina bifida, cleft lip, clubfoot and Down syndrome.

“Pesticides get around,” LiveScience reported in an article about the study. Study leader Dr. Paul Winchester told LiveScience, “Several studies have now confirmed that pesticides applied in a corn field end up in rain, snow, dust and most importantly, in the bodies of reproductive couples.”

Furthermore, Winchester told LiveScience that “99 percent of Americans have pesticides hanging out in their body tissues, but the scientific question is whether these are harmful.”

Winchester suggests that while pesticides are hard to avoid, eating organic food helps. He also noted that a limitation of the study is the unreliability of birth records, but suggests that birth defects are underreported, and that better reporting would probably “strengthen the association” found in the study.

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Recent Developments: Study warns EU of potential brain harm from pesticides; Ontario Farm Family Health Study

In October 2008, the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Southern Denmark released a study showing that “pesticides used in the European Union might damage brain growth in fetuses and young children,” The Gazette of Montreal reported. The study reviewed “almost 200 scientific reports worldwide about the brain and pesticides” and asserted that because pesticides are toxic to the brains of insects, they are also likely to be toxic to human brains. “The developing brain of the fetus and young child is far more sensitive than the adult brain to disruptions from chemicals,” the authors added.

A 2001 study called the Ontario Farm Family Health Study looked at the link between pesticides and spontaneous abortions in 2,110 women living on Ontario farms, finding “moderate increases in risk of early abortions for preconception exposures to phenoxy acetic acid herbicides.”

Related Topic: Reducing the use of pesticides in schools

In January, the Environmental Protection Agency launched a new plan called School IPM 2015 that uses Integrated Pest Management, such as proper sanitation practices, to reduce the use of pesticides in schools and complaints about pests by 70 percent. The EPA hopes that all of the country’s public schools will have adopted its suggested changes by 2015.

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