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Premature Birth Linked With Increased Use of Pesticides

The growing premature birth rate in the United States appears to be strongly associated with increased use of pesticides and nitrates , according to study.

Dr. Winchester and colleagues found that preterm birth rates peaked when pesticides and nitrates measurements in surface water were highest (April-July) and were lowest when nitrates and pesticides were lowest (Aug.-Sept.).

More than 27 million U.S. live births were studied from 1996-2002. Preterm birth varied from a high of 12.03% in June to a low of 10.44% in September. The highest rate of prematurity occurred in May-June (11.91%) and the lowest for Aug-Sept (10.79%) regardless of maternal age, race, education, marital status, alcohol or cigarette use, or whether the mother was an urban, suburban or rural resident. Pesticide and nitrate levels in surface water were also highest in May-June and lowest in August September, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

For the past four years, Dr. Winchester and colleagues have focused attention on the outcomes of pregnancy in Indiana and the United States in relation to environmental pesticides and nitrates in surface and drinking water. Last year at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting, Dr Winchester reported that birth defects peak in Indiana and in the United States as a whole during April through July, the same months as pesticides and nitrates reach their maximum concentrations in surface water. This year's presentation expands upon that work.

"A growing body of evidence suggests that the consequence of prenatal exposure to pesticides and nitrates as well as to other environmental contaminants is detrimental to many outcomes of pregnancy. As a neonatologist, I am seeing a growing number of birth defects, and preterm births, and I think we need to face up to environmental causes," said Dr Winchester, who is also director of Newborn Intensive Care Services at St. Francis Hospital in Indianapoli
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