The cohort of 171 women represents a diverse group from seven American states and territories (including New Hampshire, New York, Puerto Rico, Illinois, California, and Georgia), with 20% of women participating Black, one-third white, 40% Latina, and the remaining from other or multiple groups. Over the course of the study, routine monitoring was conducted utilizing an advanced diagnostic method that permits analysis of dozens of chemicals from a single urine sample.
Of the 103 chemicals reviewed, over 80% is detected in at least one woman enrolled in the research. One-third of the compounds are found in over 50% of women. In particular, the study finds that many women have levels of neonicotinoid insecticides in their urine. Although widely known for their hazards to pollinators, a range of data over the last decade has pointed to concerning impacts on human development from prenatal exposure. Peer-reviewed studies have linked these exposures to autism-like symptoms, birth defects in the heart, and birth defects in the brain, per a review by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Body burden of these hazardous chemicals are disproportionate between women of different races and backgrounds. Higher exposure amounts is seen in non-white women, those with less education, and pregnant women who are single. Researchers also note that Latinas encountered higher levels of parabens, bisphenols, and phthalates.
These data line up with recent research showing that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities are exposed to pesticides at disproportionately higher rates than other communities. Beyond these exposures, current laws result in weaker protection of these communities, including elevated risk factors for pesticide-induced illness, toxic housing, and poor enforcement even when problems are identified.
Pesticide exposure during this critical window of vulnerability is associated with a range of long-term health hazards… Exposure during pregnancy can increase the probability of childhood ear infections, risking hearing loss that can set back childhood development and change the course of an individuals life. ADHD is yet another example, with pregnant mothers who have used insecticides at 98% increased odds of having children with ADHD scores in the 90th percentile.
…Pesticides can also result in early births and low birth weight, and evidence is growing that glyphosate in particular is a primary contributor to this phenomenon.
Overwhelming data links prenatal pesticide exposure to an increased risk of cancer. Whether it be acute childhood leukemia (see coverage of another study on this health outcome here), nephroblastoma kidney cancer, or brain tumors, the data is consistent and incredibly concerning.
While peer-reviewed science continues to sound the alarm, federal regulators at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continue to allow harmful exposures to continue, and in some cases permitted increases in application rates of chemicals linked to prenatal and early childhood health impacts, like the pyrethroid class of insecticides.
The recent restrictions placed on the power of the EPA by the Supreme Court are only likely to increase these exposures and the danger to our unborn children’s health.