(Beyond Pesticides, May 8, 2007) A new study, presented yesterday at the Pediatric Academic Societies’ annual meeting, has found a strong correlation between the month of conception and both likelihood of premature birth and future academic achievement. Researchers found that students conceived in June through August, when statewide pesticide applications are at their highest, clearly scored the lowest on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP) examinations.
Dr. Paul Winchester, M.D., of the Indiana University School of Medicine, studied over 1.5 million third- through tenth-grade students in Indiana. Dr. Winchester explained the correlation saying, “The fetal brain begins developing soon after conception. The pesticides we use to control pests in fields and our homes and the nitrates we use to fertilize crops and even our lawns are at their highest level in the summer.” The study also monitored levels of pesticide and fertilizer use during the year. He continued, “Exposure to pesticides and nitrates can alter the hormonal milieu of the pregnant mother and the developing fetal brain. While our findings to do not represent absolute proof that pesticides and nitrates contribute to lower ISTEP scores, they strongly support such a hypothesis.”
In conjunction with the ISTEP study, the same research team found a connection between pesticide and nitrate levels in surface water and pre-term births. Babies born when levels were highest (April-July) were the most likely to be premature, and full-term births peaked when the levels were lowest (August-September). Pre-term birth increases the risk of many health ailments. Of more than 27 million births studied between 1996 and 2002, June had the highest premature birth rate at 12.03 percent, while September produced the least, at 10.44 percent. Birth data was considered regardless of race, age, education, marital status, cigarette and alcohol use, or urban or rural location, while the data on surface water contamination came from the U.S. Geological Survey.
This research is a continuation of a study presented last year, in which Dr. Winchester noted that birth defects peak nationally in infants born between April and July, when surface water levels of nitrates and pesticides are highest. He argued, “A growing body of evidence suggests that the consequences of prenatal exposure to pesticides and nitrates as well as to other environmental contaminants is detrimental to many outcomes of pregnancy. As a neonatologist, I am seeing a growing number of birth defects, and preterm births, and I think we need to face up to environmental causes.”
Dr. Winchester’s colleague, Professor of Pediatrics at Indiana University’s School of Medicine James Lemons, M.D., added, “I believe this work may lay the foundation for some of the most important basic and clinical research, and public health initiatives of our time. To recognize that what we put into our environment has potential pandemic effects on pregnancy outcome and possibly on child development is a momentous observation, which hopefully will help transform the way humanity cares for its world.”
To find out which pesticides have been linked to birth defects and other health effects, click here.