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03rd Apr 2018

Pesticides could have link to birth abnormalities, says research

Researchers analysed births in one area over 14 years.

Anna O'Rourke

Exposure to pesticides could put pregnant women at a higher risk of having a child with birth abnormalities, claims a study.

Living close to where pesticides are sprayed on crops increased the risk, it shows.

In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers compared 500,000 births in San Joaquin Valley in California, a strongly agricultural area, over a period of 14 years up to 2011.

They found a five to nine per cent increase in birth defects among women who were exposed to very high quantities of pesticides during their pregnancy compared to the rest of the population.

Among the pregnancies exposed to the top one per cent of pesticide use, there was an 11 per cent higher likelihood of premature birth, 20 per cent increased probability of low birth weight, and around a 30g (1.06oz) decrease in birth weight on average.

The researchers were not able to narrow down which pesticides were most dangerous as many are used close to one another or together.

“Great advances have been made in understanding the effects of smoking and air pollution, among others, yet research on the effects of pesticides has remained inconclusive,” commented the researchers, from University of California, Santa Barbara, on their findings.

Environmental toxicologist Dr Alistair Hay of Leeds University told The Independent that the research should be taken seriously.

“The sheer size of the study, and the meticulous way it has been carried out, suggest that there is an environmental hazard for mothers resident in an area with large-scale pesticide usage and that investigation of measures to mitigate exposures to the chemicals are needed.”