The study included more than 300 pregnant women in the Cincinnati area, including whites and blacks living in urban, suburban and rural areas and representing the full spectrum of socioeconomic status. Twice during pregnancy, women had their urine tested for organophosphate metabolites, or chemicals that result when the pesticides are broken down.
Researchers also tested for or asked about other factors that could influence the health of a pregnancy and fetus, including smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, race, poverty and maternal depression.
Women whose exposure was in the 85th percentile, meaning they had the most exposure, had smaller babies and shorter pregnancies on average than those in the 15th percentile. Women in the 85th percentile showed evidence of exposure that was 10 times the rate of exposure for women in the 15th.
The reduction in pregnancy length was statistically significant only in white women, while reduction in birth weight was significant only for black women.
The study couldn't pinpoint the main source of pesticide exposure, but previous research has singled out diet and home pesticide use as leading sources in non-agricultural settings, the authors said.
Commenting on the study, experts voiced mixed opinions.
"This is an important study, part of the ever-accumulating body of evidence that pesticides are hazardous to human health, even at low doses," said Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "We tend to think that the kinds of low-level exposures we get on a regular basis are not harmful, but studies like this help show there is harm, and we need to be much more mindful and rethink how we regulate and un
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