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Daily News Blog

31
May

Residential Areas and Early Postnatal Complications for Pregnant Women Tied to Banned and Current Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, May 31, 2023) A study published in Chemosphere supports accumulating scientific research confirming that prohibited and current use pesticides are readily detectable in the human placenta. All pregnant women experience exposure to a mixture of complex pesticides like DDT (prohibited organochlorine pesticide [OCP]) and chlorpyrifos (current use organophosphate [OP]), with concentrations high enough to increase possible adverse health risks to the fetus through a placental transfer of chemicals. Prenatal development in the intrauterine environment is one of the most vulnerable periods of exposure, as the fetus is most susceptible to the harmful effects of chemical contaminants. Many studies indicate that prenatal and early-life exposure to environmental toxicants increases susceptibility to diseases, from learning and developmental disabilities to cancer. Given the over 1,300 research studies that demonstrate the link between pesticide exposure and general health effects, studies like this can help government and health officials identify how pesticides’ impact on the body elevates health concerns, especially for future and developing generations.

The authors note, “This study highlights the urgent requirement for implementing alternative pest-control methods in agriculture, involving a reduction of chemical pesticides application. Due to the vital role of the placenta in fetal development and its non-invasive sampling, this kind of research highlights the relevance of this tissue as a useful tool to determine pesticide exposure, and thus, prevent possible adverse effects on vulnerable populations.”

The study determined the concentration of OCPs and current-use pesticides in Argentine pregnant women’s placentas. Researchers collected socio-demographic information on the mother’s lifestyle and analyzed neonatal characteristics related to pesticide residue concentrations. Focusing on an area of chemical-intensive fruit production in Patagonia, Argentina, the researchers gathered 85 placentas after birth to determine pesticide concentrations. Using Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) and Gas Chromatography – Electron Capture Detector (GS-ECD), the researchers find a concentration of 23 pesticides: trifluralin (herbicide), chlorothalonil and HCB (fungicides), chlorpyrifos (insecticide), and organochlorines like HCHs, endosulfans, DDTs, chlordane, heptachlor, drins, and metoxichlor. Among urban and rural residential settings, rural groups of pregnant women have significantly higher levels of chlorpyrifos. However, DDT and chlorpyrifos are the major constituents of placentas regardless of urban or rural residency. The levels of DDT and chlorpyrifos in placentas exceed those reported in analyses on placental pesticide contamination in low-, middle- and high-income countries across the globe. Despite general pesticide concentrations having little association with neonatal anthropometric parameters (early postnatal complications), the concentrations in this study are high enough to caution against possible adverse health implications from prenatal exposure.

Pesticide use is widespread and direct exposure from applications or indirect exposure from residues threatens human health. Children are more vulnerable to the impact of pesticides as their bodies are still developing. Many studies indicate prenatal and early-life exposure to environmental toxicants increases disease susceptibility. Early childhood developmental pathways are significant for future health. A 2020 study finds the first few weeks of pregnancy are the most vulnerable periods during which prenatal pesticide exposure can increase disease risk. A pregnant mother’s exposure to environmental toxicants can increase the likelihood of developmental disabilities, as most developmental disabilities begin before birth. Many studies link childhood pesticide exposure to lower IQ, but the intelligence decline is even more problematic with prenatal pesticide exposure. Moreover, women living near areas of highly toxic chemical use have an increased risk of birthing a baby with cognitive function, like Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Even many long-banned pesticides still cause adverse effects on human health. Researchers at Drexel University report that higher levels of some organochlorine compounds, like DDT, during pregnancy are associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual disability (ID). 

Overall, the study demonstrates that pregnant women experience simultaneous exposure to various harmful pesticides, which can damage normal fetal development via placental transfer. As described in this study, those who work in or live proximate to agricultural sites encounter pesticides through residue on clothing and in households and through drift from sprayed applications. Thus, the presence of pesticide transfer between mother and fetus is not a new phenomenon. In blood and umbilical cord samples, pregnant women already have over 100 detectable chemicals, and studies find pesticide compounds present in the mother’s blood can transfer to the fetus via the umbilical cord. Therefore, this study supports previous studies identifying the presence of pesticides in maternal and umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid, and placenta.

Few studies address the co-occurring presence of OCPs and current-use pesticides (CUPs) in the human placenta. However, this study is one of the first to report concentrations of the CUPs chlorpyrifos and chlorothalonil in addition to OCPs in placental tissue, providing information on current pesticide exposure that can have global implications. Although low levels of chlorothalonil are in the placentas of both rural and urban residents, chlorpyrifos is the most frequently detectable current-use pesticide in all placenta samples, with significantly higher levels among rural residents. However, the main contaminants with the highest concentrations in all residential samples include chlorpyrifos (CUP) and DDE (a metabolite of DDT [OCP]). The study calls for “[…An] urgent requirement for implementing alternative pest-control methods in agriculture, involving a reduction of chemical pesticide application.”

There is a strong consensus among pediatricians that pregnant mothers and young children should avoid pesticide exposure during critical windows of development. Similarly, populations at elevated health risk should steer clear of pesticide exposure. The wide availability of non-pesticidal and nontoxic alternative strategies gives residential and agricultural management safer choices to establish a safe and healthy environment, especially among chemically vulnerable individuals. For instance, buyinggrowing, and supporting organic land management reduces human and environmental contamination from pesticides. Organic agriculture has many health and environmental benefits, which curtail the need for chemical-intensive agricultural practices. Numerous studies find that pesticide metabolite levels in urine significantly decrease when switching to an all-organic diet. For more information on how organic is the right choice for consumers and the farmworkers that grow our food, see the Beyond Pesticides webpage on the Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture.

Beyond Pesticides tracks the most recent studies on pesticide exposure through the Pesticide Induced Diseases Database (PIDD). This database supports the need for strategic action to shift away from pesticide dependency. For more information on the multiple harms of pesticide exposure, see PIDD pages on learning/developmental disordersBirth/Fetal EffectsSexual and Reproductive DysfunctionBody Burdens, and other diseases. Additionally, learn more about the hazards to children’s health through Beyond Pesticide’s Pesticides and You Journal article, “Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix.”

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Chemosphere

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