Study Shows Birth Abnormalities Go Up Significantly with High Pesticide Use
A new research study has finally borne out something many had feared, that increased pesticide use could cause increases in birth defects.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara. They found that, for pregnant women exposed to around 4,000 kg of pesticides during the birth cycle, two harmful results occurred. Premature births went up by approximately 8 percent, and the chance of a birth abnormality occurring went up by 9 percent.
The study was conducted by analyzing birth records for 500,000 people born in California’s San Joaquin Valley between 1997 and 2011, then comparing results against data on the amount of pesticides used in the region each year.
The average pesticide use over the entire study period was about 975 kg per 2.6 square kilometer area.
The intent of the study was to get a handle on the impact of pesticide exposure on birth issues. It has been suspected for some time, with comparisons made to the impact of other environmental factors such as smoking or air pollution. For those there is rich database of information about the precise amount of material people might have been exposed to over a given region. For pesticides, it is far more difficult to estimate.
As the researchers noted in their study, despite the lack of exact data, they felt the estimate exposure levels were still enough to tell a complete story. As they stated, “For individuals in the top 5 per cent of exposure, pesticide exposure led to 5 to 9 per cent increases in adverse outcomes.” For the “top 1 percent” of exposure levels, with more than 11,000 kg absorbed during pregnancy, “these extreme exposures…led to an 11 percent increased probability of preterm birth, 20 percent increased probability of low birth weight, and about a 30 g decrease in birth weight.”
The amount of pesticide residents of the Valley were exposed to was very much connected with where they lived and what crops were nearby. The researchers said that “Commodities such as grapes receive nearly 50 kg per hectare per year of insecticides alone in the San Joaquin Valley region, while other high value crops such as pistachios receive barely one third of that amount.”
As observed by many industry experts working in the same fields, the implications of the study are quite clear. In order to minimize premature births and birth defects, pesticide use must be monitored more carefully and kept to lower levels.
The challenge for the researchers now is to get a better understanding of which pesticides are the most harmful, and which of them creates what types of problems. With the clarion call that this initial study has raised, it is likely the researchers will get additional funding support to continue the work, and to get access to specific pesticide application levels and types in each affected agricultural region.