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Environ Health Perspect. 2002 June; 110(Suppl 3): 441–449.
PMCID: PMC1241196
Research Article

Birth defects, season of conception, and sex of children born to pesticide applicators living in the Red River Valley of Minnesota, USA.


We previously demonstrated that the frequency of birth defects among children of residents of the Red River Valley (RRV), Minnesota, USA, was significantly higher than in other major agricultural regions of the state during the years 1989-1991, with children born to male pesticide applicators having the highest risk. The present, smaller cross-sectional study of 695 families and 1,532 children, conducted during 1997-1998, provides a more detailed examination of reproductive health outcomes in farm families ascertained from parent-reported birth defects. In the present study, in the first year of life, the birth defect rate was 31.3 births per 1,000, with 83% of the total reported birth defects confirmed by medical records. Inclusion of children identified with birth or developmental disorders within the first 3 years of life and later led to a rate of 47.0 per 1,000 (72 children from 1,532 live births). Conceptions in spring resulted in significantly more children with birth defects than found in any other season (7.6 vs. 3.7%). Twelve families had more than one child with a birth defect (n = 28 children). Forty-two percent of the children from families with recurrent birth defects were conceived in spring, a significantly higher rate than that for any other season. Three families in the kinships defined contributed a first-degree relative other than a sibling with the same or similar birth defect, consistent with a Mendelian inheritance pattern. The remaining nine families did not follow a Mendelian inheritance pattern. The sex ratio of children with birth defects born to applicator families shows a male predominance (1.75 to 1) across specific pesticide class use and exposure categories exclusive of fungicides. In the fungicide exposure category, normal female births significantly exceed male births (1.25 to 1). Similarly, the proportion of male to female children with birth defects is significantly lower (0.57 to 1; p = 0.02). Adverse neurologic and neurobehavioral developmental effects clustered among the children born to applicators of the fumigant phosphine (odds ratio [OR] = 2.48; confidence interval [CI], 1.2-5.1). Use of the herbicide glyphosate yielded an OR of 3.6 (CI, 1.3-9.6) in the neurobehavioral category. Finally, these studies point out that (a) herbicides applied in the spring may be a factor in the birth defects observed and (b) fungicides can be a significant factor in the determination of sex of the children of the families of the RRV. Thus, two distinct classes of pesticides seem to have adverse effects on different reproductive outcomes. Biologically based confirmatory studies are needed.

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Selected References

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