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Agricultural Chemical Spray Linked to Birth Defect Risk

Infant abdominal hernia rates higher near farms using atrazine, research shows

FRIDAY, Feb. 5 (HealthDay News) -- There's a link between a birth defect called gastroschisis and the agricultural chemical atrazine, a new study has found.

Gastroschisis is an abdominal wall defect in which the intestines, and sometimes other organs, develop outside the abdomen through an opening in the abdominal wall. The incidence of this birth defect, also called infant abdominal hernia, has doubled to quadrupled over the past 30 years.

In the new study, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle investigated whether environmental exposures were a factor in a higher than normal number of cases in the eastern part of the state.

"Our state has about two times the national average number of cases of gastroschisis," study co-author Dr. Sarah Waller said in a news release. "The life expectancy for fetuses with this diagnosis is better than 90 percent; however it requires delivery at a tertiary care center with immediate neonatal intervention, which often separates families and can cause serious financial and emotional stress."

Waller and colleagues analyzed 805 cases of live-born infants with gastroschisis between 1987 and 2006, along with 3,616 normal infants who acted as controls. The researchers matched birth certificates with U.S. Geological Survey databases of agricultural spraying of atrazine, nitrates, and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid.

Gastroschisis occurred more often among infants born to mothers who lived less than 25 kilometers (or about 15.5 miles) from the site of high surface water contamination with atrazine. There was no increased risk associated with the other chemicals. The study authors also found that the risk of gastroschisis was higher for women who conceived in the spring (March through May), when agricultural chemical use is more prevalent.

The study was scheduled to be presented Feb. 5 at the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Chicago.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about gastroschisis.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, news release, Feb. 5, 2010

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