Fears over pesticide exposure in the month of conception
New research reveals that babies conceived in the spring and summer are more likely than others to be born with birth defects. One possible cause is the levels of pesticides in surface water happen to peak at the same time.
The study, published in the US medical journal Acta Pædiatrica links the increasing number of birth defects in children of women whose last menstrual period occurred in April through July to elevated levels of nitrates, atrazine and other pesticides in surface water during the same period. This is the first time in the sea of reports of pesticide risks, that exposure during the month of conception has been considered as a cause of birth defects.
The study reports that even mothers who were not exposed to well-known risk factors, such as drinking alcohol and smoking, had higher overall birth defect rates for babies conceived from April to July. This preliminary evidence suggests that pesticides may function in the same way as the controversial chemical bisphenol A and disrupt the hormonal systems of living organisms. By doing so at very low doses means that agrichemicals could have effects for generations to come.
Whilst this study reveals a correlation only between pesticides and birth defects, more research is necessary to prove causation. This said, these initial findings join a host of other reports, all of which point to links between household or occupational pesticide exposure and diseases such as cancers, neuro-developmental disorders and Parkinson’s Disease.
Links between pesticide exposure and the prevalence of chronic, preventable diseases are ever more prevelant within the policy context. In the EU, January 2009 saw a tightening of rules on pesticides usage – the phasing out of those associated with cancer, reproductive toxicity, hormone disruption, and genetic mutations. This reform also sees a severe restriction of pesticide use in public areas. The legislation also prohibits most aerial crop-spraying thereby helping to protect both farm workers.
Fortunately, many pesticides are non-essential components of our current farming practices - alternatives do exist. Removing harmful pesticides from food production removes one method of human exposure. The EU phase-out of dangerous pesticides, if implemented correctly, is an opportunity to achieve healthier food supplies, safer occupational health and protected public places. However, the new legislation has been met with some disappointment by environmental NGOs who criticise it for not going far enough.
We are still a long way off eliminating all dangerous pesticides from our food chain, but in the face of ever-growing evidence that identifies pesticide dangers, the EU has now set the stage for more health protective policy. If implemented properly, at the level of the member states, we can look forward to better human health outcomes across the EU.
Read more about the HEAL Pesticides & Cancer Campaign website - available in English and French. The campaign aims to achieve a faster ban of superfluous cancer-causing pesticides and the elimination of pesticides use in public green areas.
Or visit our A Facebook group “Sick of Pesticides” - it disseminates the latest news and comments, including videos from involved citizens and expert scientists.
Last updated on 1 July 2011