Residential agricultural pesticide exposures and risk of neural tube defects and orofacial clefts among offspring in the San Joaquin Valley of California

Am J Epidemiol. 2014 Mar 15;179(6):740-8. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwt324. Epub 2014 Feb 18.


We examined whether early gestational exposures to pesticides were associated with an increased risk of anencephaly, spina bifida, cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CLP), or cleft palate only. We used population-based data along with detailed information from maternal interviews. Exposure estimates were based on residential proximity to agricultural pesticide applications during early pregnancy. The study population derived from the San Joaquin Valley, California (1997-2006). Analyses included 73 cases with anencephaly, 123 with spina bifida, 277 with CLP, and 117 with cleft palate only in addition to 785 controls. A total of 38% of the subjects were exposed to 52 chemical groups and 257 specific chemicals. There were relatively few elevated odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals that excluded 1 after adjustment for relevant covariates. Those chemical groups included petroleum derivatives for anencephaly, hydroxybenzonitrile herbicides for spina bifida, and 2,6-dinitroaniline herbicides and dithiocarbamates-methyl isothiocyanate for CLP. The specific chemicals included 2,4-D dimethylamine salt, methomyl, imidacloprid, and α-(para-nonylphenyl)-ω-hydroxypoly(oxyethylene) phosphate ester for anencephaly; the herbicide bromoxynil octanoate for spina bifida; and trifluralin and maneb for CLP. Adjusted odds ratios ranged from 1.6 to 5.1. Given that such odds ratios might have arisen by chance because of the number of comparisons, our study showed a general lack of association between a range of agricultural pesticide exposures and risks of selected birth defects.

Keywords: birth defects; congenital abnormalities; endocrine disruptors; environment; pesticides; pregnancy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / statistics & numerical data
  • Anencephaly / epidemiology*
  • California / epidemiology
  • Cleft Lip / epidemiology*
  • Cleft Palate / epidemiology*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / statistics & numerical data
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Maternal Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Pesticides / analysis*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Spinal Dysraphism / epidemiology*


  • Pesticides