A new study reveals that exposure to agricultural pesticides may put babies at substantial risk.
It's a known fact that chemicals that women absorb from the environment can cross the placenta to the fetus. A new study reveals that exposure to agricultural pesticides may put babies at substantial risk for birth abnormalities.

Expecting mothers do everything possible to protect their babies from harm. From staying away from soft cheeses to avoiding exposure to fresh paint, most moms are very aware of the choices they make while pregnant. However, researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara say that there may be a new reason to worry.

The new study, titled: "Agricultural Pesticide Use and Adverse Birth Outcomes in the San Joaquin Valley of California," examined birth records from 500,000 people born in the San Joaquin Valley between 1997 and 2011. Researchers analyzed residential agricultural pesticide exposure during gestation by trimester. They also examined toxicity influences on birth outcomes, birth weight, gestational length, and birth abnormalities.

Related: Pesticide Exposure Harms Children

The study found that for the majority of births there was no significant impact of pesticide exposure on birth outcome. However, for pregnant women living in areas with the top 5 percent of exposure, as defined by at least 4,000kg of pesticide used, premature births rose by 8%, and birth abnormalities increased by 9%.

The numbers are even more alarming for those pregnant moms living in areas where there was greater than 11,000 kg of pesticide exposure. These babies saw an 11% increased probability of preterm birth and 20% increase in low birth weight.

The authors are quick to note that women exposed to other environmental conditions, such as air pollution and extreme heat, experience a 5-10% increase in adverse birth outcomes as well.

Related: 17 Toxins on One Strawberry: Why Limiting Pesticide Exposure Is Vital

The San Joaquin Valley is California's most productive agricultural region and the greatest user of pesticides within the state. Pesticide use in any given area is largely dependent on the types of crops being grown. The study did not drill down on specific ingredients or chemicals used.

"The sheer size of the study, and the meticulous way it has been carried out, suggest that there is an environmental hazard for mothers resident in an area with large-scale pesticide usage and that investigation of measures to mitigate exposures to the chemicals are needed," said environmental toxicologist Professor Alastair Hay.

This study verifies the urgent need for public policy on the regulation of pesticide use in residential areas.