Urinary biomarkers of prenatal atrazine exposure and adverse birth outcomes in the PELAGIE birth cohort

Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jul;119(7):1034-41. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1002775. Epub 2011 Mar 2.


Background: Despite evidence of atrazine toxicity in developing organisms from experimental studies, few studies--and fewer epidemiologic investigations--have examined the potential effects of prenatal exposure.

Objectives: We assessed the association between adverse birth outcomes and urinary biomarkers of prenatal atrazine exposure, while taking into account exposures to other herbicides used on corn crops (simazine, alachlor, metolachlor, and acetochlor).

Methods: This study used a case-cohort design nested in a prospective birth cohort conducted in the Brittany region of France from 2002 through 2006. We collected maternal urine samples to examine pesticide exposure biomarkers before the 19th week of gestation.

Results: We found quantifiable levels of atrazine or atrazine mercapturate in urine samples from 5.5% of 579 pregnant women, and dealkylated and identified hydroxylated triazine metabolites in 20% and 40% of samples, respectively. The presence versus absence of quantifiable levels of atrazine or a specific atrazine metabolite was associated with fetal growth restriction [odds ratio (OR) = 1.5; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.0-2.2] and small head circumference for sex and gestational age (OR = 1.7; 95% CI, 1.0-2.7). Associations with major congenital anomalies were not evident with atrazine or its specific metabolites. Head circumference was inversely associated with the presence of quantifiable urinary metolachlor.

Conclusions: This study is the first to assess associations of birth outcomes with multiple urinary biomarkers of exposure to triazine and chloroacetanilide herbicides. Evidence of associations with adverse birth outcomes raises particular concerns for countries where atrazine is still in use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetanilides / metabolism
  • Acetanilides / toxicity
  • Acetanilides / urine
  • Acetylcysteine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Acetylcysteine / metabolism
  • Acetylcysteine / toxicity
  • Acetylcysteine / urine
  • Adult
  • Atrazine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Atrazine / metabolism
  • Atrazine / toxicity*
  • Atrazine / urine
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Birth Weight / drug effects
  • Cephalometry
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Fetal Growth Retardation
  • France / epidemiology
  • Herbicides / metabolism
  • Herbicides / toxicity*
  • Herbicides / urine
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Triazines / metabolism
  • Triazines / toxicity
  • Triazines / urine
  • Young Adult


  • Acetanilides
  • Biomarkers
  • Herbicides
  • Triazines
  • atrazine mercapturate
  • Atrazine
  • Acetylcysteine