Neural tube defects and maternal residential proximity to agricultural pesticide applications

Am J Epidemiol. 2006 Apr 15;163(8):743-53. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwj101. Epub 2006 Feb 22.


Residential proximity to applications of agricultural pesticides may be an important source of exposure to agents that have been classified as developmental toxins. Data on two case-control study populations of infants with neural tube defects (NTDs) and nonmalformed controls delivered in California between 1987 and 1991 were pooled to investigate whether maternal residential proximity to applications of specific pesticides or physicochemical groups of pesticides during early gestation increases the risk of these malformations. Maternal residential proximity within 1,000 m of pesticide applications was ascertained by linking mothers' addresses with agricultural pesticide use reports and crop maps. Odds ratios were computed by using conventional single- and multiple-pesticide and hierarchical multiple-pesticide logistic regression. In single-pesticide models, several pesticides were associated with NTDs after adjustment for study population, maternal ethnicity, educational level, cigarette smoking, and vitamin use. In a hierarchical multiple-pesticide model, effect estimates for only benomyl and methomyl suggested a possible association. Elevated risks of NTDs and anencephaly or spina bifida subtypes were also associated with exposures to chemicals classified as amide, benzimidazole, methyl carbamate, or organophosphorus pesticides and with increasing numbers of pesticides. These results suggest that ambient exposure to certain categories of agricultural pesticides may increase the risk of NTDs.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • California / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Maternal Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Neural Tube Defects / chemically induced*
  • Neural Tube Defects / epidemiology
  • Pesticides / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Risk Assessment


  • Pesticides