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Daily News Archive
From February 14, 2001

Fetal Death Associated with Agricultural Pesticide Use

Reuters Health reports on a new study by lead author Dr. Erin M. Bell in the March issue of the journal Epidemiology (vol. 22, pps. 148-156.) finding that pregnant woman living near agricultural land where pesticides are applied have a greater risk of fetal death due to birth defects.

The study evaluated 1984 pesticide application data from 10 counties in California and identified 73 women who had a fetus die due to heart malformations, missing parts of the fetus' brain or spinal cord, among other birth defects. These women were compared with 611 women who gave birth to healthy infants. The researchers then compared both groups of women to the information on agricultural pesticide use near their homes.

Pesticide exposure during the 3rd and 8th weeks of pregnancy, were the most vulnerable times to which the fetus was affected by pesticides. Bell stated in an interview with Reuters Health that the association between pesticide exposure and fetal death "increased for women living within one mile of the field where pesticide application occurred."

The study states that the authors', "exposure classification method did not guarantee that a mother was, in fact, exposed, because wind and weather conditions, hour of application and the location of the mother at the time of the application are all factors that would determine actual exposure." Bell told Reuters Health, "Future research will need to define actual exposures to pesticides and their effect on particular time periods during a woman's pregnancy."

Bell researched the study while at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, Chapel Hill and currently works at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD.