Pesticide Exposure During Pregnancy May Cause Low Birth Weight: Study

A new study suggests that exposure to some pesticides may cause pregnant women to have earlier deliveries and children with lower birth weights. 

Researchers from Canada indicate that when pregnant women are exposed to a class of pesticides known as organophosphates, which include the commonly used malathion and parathion pesticides, they appear to have children a third of a pound lighter and deliver several days earlier than expected.

While the differences are small, the researchers fear that it could have serious consequences for some pregnancies, and may be contributing to low birth weight and early delivery rates.

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The findings were published earlier this month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, looking at levels of organophosphates in the urine of 306 expecting mothers. Researchers found that a 10-fold concentration of traces of the chemicals in their bodies appeared to be associated with lower birth weights and earlier deliveries.

The relationship between pesticide exposure during pregnancy and earlier deliveries was stronger among white females than in black females, but the decreased birth weight relationship was stronger among blacks females than in whites. Researchers indicate that there was an association, but did not cite a causal link.

Organophosphates were first developed in the early 20th Century, first as an insecticide and then as a nerve gas during World War II by Nazi Germany. Sarin gas, one of the most feared nerve gas weapons in the world, and considered a weapon of mass destruction, is an organophosphate.

As a pesticide, organophosphates are used commonly in the United States, with malathion probably the most widely used, particularly in mosquito population control. An estimated 73 million pounds of organophosphate pesticides are used in the U.S. each year.

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