Birth malformations and other adverse perinatal outcomes in four U.S. Wheat-producing states.
Chlorophenoxy herbicides are widely used in the United States and Western Europe for broadleaf weed control in grain farming and park maintenance. Most of the spring and durum wheat produced in the United States is grown in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, with more than 85% of the acreage treated with chlorophenoxy herbicides such as 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 4-chloro-2-methylphenoxyacetic acid (MCPA). Rates of adverse birth outcomes in rural, agricultural counties of these states during 1995-1997 were studied by comparing counties with a high proportion of wheat acreage and those with a lower proportion. Information routinely collected and made available by federal agencies was used for this ecologic study. Significant increases in birth malformations were observed for the circulatory/respiratory category for combined sexes [odds ratio (OR) = 1.65; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.07-2.55]. A stronger effect was observed for the subcategory, which excluded heart malformations (OR = 2.03; 95% CI, 1.14-3.59). In addition, infants conceived during April-June--the time of herbicide application--had an increased chance of being diagnosed with circulatory/respiratory (excluding heart) malformations compared with births conceived during other months of the year (OR = 1.75; 95% CI, 1.09-2.80). Musculoskeletal/integumental anomalies increased for combined sexes in the high-wheat counties (OR = 1.50; 95% CI, 1.06-2.12). Infant death from congenital anomalies significantly increased in high-wheat counties for males (OR = 2.66; 95% CI, 1.52-4.65) but not for females (OR = 0.48; 95% CI, 0.20-1.15). These results are especially of concern because of widespread use of chlorophenoxy herbicides.