An exploratory analysis of the effect of pesticide exposure on the risk of spontaneous abortion in an Ontario farm population

Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Aug;109(8):851-7. doi: 10.1289/ehp.01109851.


The toxicity of pesticides on human reproduction is largely unknown--particularly how mixtures of pesticide products might affect fetal toxicity. The Ontario Farm Family Health Study collected data by questionnaire on the identity and timing of pesticide use on the farm, lifestyle factors, and a complete reproductive history from the farm operator and eligible couples living on the farm. A total of 2,110 women provided information on 3,936 pregnancies, including 395 spontaneous abortions. To explore critical windows of exposure and target sites for toxicity, we examined exposures separately for preconception (3 months before and up to month of conception) and postconception (first trimester) windows and for early (< 12 weeks) and late (12-19 weeks) spontaneous abortions. We observed moderate increases in risk of early abortions for preconception exposures to phenoxy acetic acid herbicides [odds ratio (OR) = 1.5; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.1-2.1], triazines (OR = 1.4; 95% CI, 1.0-2.0), and any herbicide (OR = 1.4; 95% CI, 1.1-1.9). For late abortions, preconception exposure to glyphosate (OR = 1.7; 95% CI, 1.0-2.9), thiocarbamates (OR = 1.8; 95% CI, 1.1-3.0), and the miscellaneous class of pesticides (OR = 1.5; 95% CI, 1.0-2.4) was associated with elevated risks. Postconception exposures were generally associated with late spontaneous abortions. Older maternal age (> 34 years of age) was the strongest risk factor for spontaneous abortions, and we observed several interactions between pesticides in the older age group using Classification and Regression Tree analysis. This study shows that timing of exposure and restricting analyses to more homogeneous endpoints are important in characterizing the reproductive toxicity of pesticides.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / chemically induced*
  • Abortion, Spontaneous / epidemiology*
  • Acetates / adverse effects
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Fathers
  • Female
  • Fungicides, Industrial / adverse effects
  • Gestational Age
  • Herbicides / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Insecticides / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Pesticides / adverse effects*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Rural Population
  • Thiocarbamates / adverse effects
  • Time Factors
  • Triazines


  • Acetates
  • Fungicides, Industrial
  • Herbicides
  • Insecticides
  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Pesticides
  • Thiocarbamates
  • Triazines
  • phenoxyacetic acid