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Study: living near where pesticides used may boost fetal death due to birth defects

CHAPEL HILL -- Living close to areas where agricultural pesticides are applied may boost the risk of fetal death due to birth defects, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study indicates. Researchers say their findings suggest but do not prove a hazard. The study, which involved almost 700 women in 10 California counties, showed an increased risk of death among developing babies, ranging from 40 percent to 120 percent among those whose mothers lived near crops where certain pesticides were sprayed. Scientists compared the cases of 73 women whose pregnancies ended because of birth defects with 611 control subjects whose pregnancies ended in normal live births.

"Our study showed a consistent pattern with respect to timing of exposure," said Dr. Erin M. Bell, who earned her doctorate with the research at the UNC School of Public Health. "The largest risks for fetal death due to birth defects were from pesticide exposure during the third week to the eighth week of pregnancy."

That span -- much of the first trimester -- appears to be a special window of vulnerability for birth defects, Bell said, just as earlier research has suggested.

"The risks appeared to be strongest among pregnant women who lived in the same square mile where pesticides were used," she said.

A report on the research will appear in the March issue of Epidemiology, a public health journal. Besides Bell, now an epidemiologist with the National Cancer Institute, authors were her mentor Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of epidemiology at UNC, and Dr. James J. Beaumont, formerly of the University of California at Davis and now with the California Environmental Protection Agency.

"This is the first study to our knowledge of pesticides and pregnancy in which exposures were in close proximity to the subjects and the verification of pesticide use was objective, not relying on people's memories of what they might have been exposed to," Hertz-P
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Contact: David Williamson
david_williamson@unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
12-Feb-2001


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