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Study makes alarming find about pregnant women living near farms: ‘Preterm birth and reduced fetal growth’

“What is going on?”

"What is going on?"

Photo Credit: iStock

A new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that pregnant women living near farms had “significantly” higher levels of the weed killer glyphosate in their urine during the agricultural spraying season. 

What happened?

In light of concerns about the herbicide contributing to “reduced fetal growth and other fetal problems,” as the Guardian reports, researchers wanted to measure glyphosate levels of pregnant women living within roughly 0.62 miles of a farm field. 

To do this, they took 453 urine samples biweekly from 40 pregnant women living close to agricultural fields in southern Idaho from February through December 2021, as the paper stated. 

The team found that women living less than 0.3 miles from actively cultivated farms had detectable glyphosate in their urine more often during the spray season compared to the non-spray season (81% vs. 55%) and also had it at higher concentrations at these times.

“What is going on? Is it drifting more than we think? Is it adhering to soil particles which then blow around and end up in people’s house dust? Is it drinking water? Until we figure that out we can’t suggest the right interventions,” Cynthia Curl, an associate professor at Boise State and lead author on the paper, told the Guardian.

She added that future research will include household dust and water samples to pinpoint exposure routes. 

Why is increased glyphosate levels in pregnant women concerning?

As the paper explained, “four recent investigations found that gestational glyphosate exposure was associated with shortened gestational length, preterm birth, and reduced fetal growth.” 

There are also other health concerns associated with glyphosate, such as increased oxidative stress and inflammation, disrupted hormones, impaired brain function, and immunity. It was even declared “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), though the EPA disagreed with this conclusion. 

While more research is needed to understand the effects of weed killer exposure on the general public, the fact it’s so ubiquitous is concerning. For example, the CDC released findings from a 2022 survey that more than 80% of the 2,310 people sampled had glyphosate in their urine, as the Guardian summarized.

What’s being done about it?

According to Forbes, one of the major sellers of glyphosate-based weed killers, Bayer, announced that it would phase out the chemical in its lawn and garden products starting in 2023 in response to thousands of lawsuits linking its Roundup weed killer to cancer. However, the formula with glyphosate will still be available for farmers and other professionals. 

As Dr. Curl stated in the research paper, more studies are planned to determine how pregnant women living near farms are getting exposed to glyphosate. For now, she suggested installing windbreaks, closing windows, minimizing time outdoors during spray season, taking shoes off to avoid tracking in contaminated soil, and cleaning often to remove household dust.

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