Pesticides are especially harmful to pregnant women and their babies, but the actual research quantifying these effects has been, for the most part, pretty lacking. Pesticides and birth abnormalities in babies are undoubtedly linked, but exposure amounts have been debatable. Working to find answers on the matter, researchers in California have come to some conclusions in an effort to eventually find solutions to the problem.
The location where this research was conducted was by no means random — it was super specific to the problem's impact. The San Joaquin Valley in California produces 40 percent of the United States' fruits, nuts, and other table foods. In using just a small measure of land, the valley's dedication to produce production has lasting impacts. Thus, high levels of pesticides are found within the region, making it an appropriate venue for study.
Researchers at UC Santa Barbara "investigated the effect of exposure during pregnancy in this agriculturally dominated area and observed an increase in adverse outcomes accompanying very high levels of pesticide exposure," according to ScienceDaily.
By honing in on this pesticide-heavy region, lead author Ashley Larsen — who's an assistant professor in UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management — and her cohort were able to correlate heightened pesticide levels with birth abnormalities. According to the findings:
Mothers exposed to extreme levels of pesticides, defined here as the top 5 percent of the pesticide exposure distribution, experienced between 5 and 9 percent increases in the probability of adverse outcomes with an approximately 13-gram decrease in birth weight.
Birth weight, gestational length, preterm births, and birth abnormalities were all found in elevated percentages among mothers exposed to high levels of pesticides. Still, Larsen explained that there's a current gap in research, as there isn't a "statistically identifiable impact of pesticide exposure on birth outcome" as of yet, according to MedicalXpress.
This research stands to benefit communities located in agriculturally-focused areas. "If we can identify where and why these extremely high levels of use are occurring, particularly near human settlements," Larsen reportedly said of the findings, "policymakers and health workers can work to reduce extreme exposures near agricultural communities via information campaigns or farmer outreach." Having scientific proof will hopefully lead to legislation and, in turn, healthier babies.
"We don't have a good understanding of how different chemicals interact with each other in the environment," Larsen said in a press release, while stressing a need for more scientific focus on this issue.
Given that so many different pesticide chemicals are used, it's not yet possible to tell which ones are having the dangerous, adverse effects. There's a lot more to be learned and studied as far as pesticide exposure effects are concerned, but discoveries of this kind help pave the way for safer futures.