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March 25, 2004 - Pesticide Ban Benefits Newborns Findings Support Phase-Out of Dangerous Bug Killers

Robin M. Whyatt, DrPH, of Columbia University and colleagues, previously found that dangerous pesticide exposure is common among pregnant minority women living in low-income areas of New York City.

Their new study -- released this week and scheduled for publication in Environmental Health Perspectives -- links high umbilical-cord levels of pesticide to low birth size and low birth weight in babies.

Federal regulations demand that sales of two bug killers be phased out for indoor use. Sales of chlorpryifos for home use had to end by December 2001. Sales of diazinon for home use had to end by December 2002.

Whyatt's team collected data from 316 pregnant African-American and Dominican women living in northern Manhattan and the South Bronx. They found that during their pregnancies, the women often were exposed pesticides. And before 2001, infants born to mothers exposed to the highest levels of chlorpryifos had lower birth size and birth weight. Diazinon likely contributed to this effect.

"By 2001, after exposures had been reduced due to U.S. EPA regulatory action, almost none of the newborns had these higher exposure levels and the association between cord plasma chlorpyrifos levels and birth weight and length was no longer significant," Whyatt and colleagues write.

Study co-author Frederica P. Perera, DrPH, director of Columbia's Center for Children's Environmental Health, says the regulations clearly benefit public health.

"This study is good news for our nation's children," Perera says in a news release. "The evidence that birth weight increased following the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory action implies important benefits for the children's future health and development."

However, these pesticides continue to be used for agricultural use on many food crops. Pregnant farm workers may be at particular risk, the authors note.

"The results highlight the need to address continuing prenatal exposures to these and other toxic pesticides," Perera says."

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