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Herbicide linked to birth defect

Spray link to birth defect – Australia

March 10, 2010

Since the mid-1980s, the Western Australian Department of Health Birth Defect Register shows children born with the defect (gastroschisis) more than tripled from 15 between 1984 and 1985 to 48 from 2005-08. A toxic herbicide widely sprayed on food crops across the state has been linked to a shocking birth defect that is on the rise in WA.

Doctors at a Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine conference have announced a correlation between exposure to the agricultural chemical atrazine and gastroschisis – a rare congenital birth defect in which a baby’s intestine grows outside its abdomen. Research by the University of WA and King Edward Memorial Hospital shows cases of gastroschisis have been steadily increasing in WA over the past decade. Since the mid-1980s, the WA Department of Health Birth Defect Register shows children born with the defect more than tripled from 15 between 1984 and 1985 to 48 from 2005-08.

Atrazine is recommended by the WA Department of Agriculture for use on crops such as maize, sugarcane, lupins, peas, wheat, potatoes and canola to control weeds. Obstetricians at the University of Washington in Seattle this month released a study that compared the geographic location of 805 infants with gastroschisis with 3616 children born without the defect, between 1987 and 2006. Researchers discovered that gastroschisis occurred more frequently in infants whose mothers lived less than 25km from the site of high-surface water contamination with atrazine and the defect was more common in women who conceived in spring , when spraying is more prevalent.

The WA Department of Health was unaware of the US study when contacted by The Sunday Times on Friday. The department’s environmental health consultant, Richard Lugg, said his department would obtain full details of the report as soon as possible.

“WA will be in a good position to comment when the full details are to hand, as all Water Corporation drinking water sources (surface and groundwater) are monitored for a range of chemical contaminants, including
atrazine and related triazine herbicides,” Dr Lugg said.

“DoH will consult the WA Birth Defects Registry, which has been monitoring the occurrence of birth defects, including gastroschisis, in WA for over 30 years.

“Though the frequency of this defect has not been of concern, the Registry data will enable DoH to relate local frequencies to those seen in eastern Washington State when full details of the study are to hand.”

The independent government authority that controls pesticide use, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, said it was aware of the study, but further lab investigations were needed before regulatory action would be taken.

“A large number of studies on high doses of atrazine and its metabolites in a range of laboratory test animals have never found that they cause birth defects,” APVMA’s pesticides principal scientist David Loschke said.

Atrazine use in home gardens was banned in 1998. Previous studies have shown high concentrations of atrazine cause developmental problems in amphibians and neuroendocrine – the cells that release hormones into blood – disruption in rats. To date, there is no conclusive evidence that atrazine causes problems to human health.

The Institute for Child Health Research epidemiologist Carol Bower, who oversees WA’s Birth Defect Registry, said she could not provide a break-down of gastroschisis by town or suburb in WA. Across the nation, not all states keep a record.

The defect is believed to be a problem with vascular development in the embryo. Smoking and drug use, particularly cocaine, have also been linked to the defect.

“(Gastroschisis cases) have been going up all over the world and it is relatively more common in younger mothers,” Prof Bower said. “It has got to be environmental in some way because (the number of cases) are not going to change that quickly if it is a genetic thing. “But there are thousands of environmental factors, such as when you take drugs, smoke or take folate, but it’s environmental in the general sense..”“It’s got to be something that is changing fairly quickly, an underlying genetic thing would take a lot longer to change.” Source: 01 March 2010 – article by Perth Now- The Sunday Times