Thursday, September 19, 2013

Women working in California strawberry fields treated with methyl bromide have smaller babies

"Women in Northern California farm towns gave birth to smaller babies if they lived within three miles of strawberry fields and other crops treated with the pesticide methyl bromide, according to researchers from the University of California-Berkeley," Lindsey Konkel reports for Environmental Health News. The study, which looked at 442 women, mostly Latinas from Mexico, living in the Salinas Valley in 1999 and 2000, found that the average birth rate among these women was four ounces less than births in areas where the pesticide was not used. Only four percent of the babies were born at what is considered a low-birth weight, less than 5.5 pounds, which has led researchers to say that the study is inconclusive.(Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health photo)

Kim Harley, associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at Berkeley, told Konkel that while the clinical significance of the findings remains unclear, “for a baby on the low end of normal birth weight, 4 ounces could make a big difference.” Harley "also noted that while this group of agricultural workers, and Mexican immigrants in general, tend to have healthy birth weight babies, 'across the board, we saw a shift toward slightly lighter babies.' There’s been very little research on residential exposure to methyl bromide. Our study is the first to look at methyl bromide and birth outcomes.” Methyl bromide use "has been declining over the past decade under an international treaty that phases out chemicals that deplete the Earth’s protective ozone layer," Konkel writes. But strawberries "are exempt under the ban because they are deemed 'critical uses.'" (Read more)

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