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Agricultural Compounds in Water and Birth Defects


Agricultural compounds have been detected in drinking water, some of which are teratogens in animal models. The most commonly detected agricultural compounds in drinking water include nitrate, atrazine, and desethylatrazine. Arsenic can also be an agricultural contaminant, although arsenic often originates from geologic sources. Nitrate has been the most studied agricultural compound in relation to prenatal exposure and birth defects. In several case-control studies published since 2000, women giving birth to babies with neural tube defects, oral clefts, and limb deficiencies were more likely than control mothers to be exposed to higher concentrations of drinking water nitrate during pregnancy. Higher concentrations of atrazine in drinking water have been associated with abdominal defects, gastroschisis, and other defects. Elevated arsenic in drinking water has also been associated with birth defects. Since these compounds often occur as mixtures, it is suggested that future research focus on the impact of mixtures, such as nitrate and atrazine, on birth defects.

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Correspondence to Jean D. Brender.

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Jean Brender and Peter Weyer declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This article is a review of the literature and therefore does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Water and Health

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Brender, J.D., Weyer, P.J. Agricultural Compounds in Water and Birth Defects. Curr Envir Health Rpt 3, 144–152 (2016).

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  • Birth defects
  • Drinking water
  • Nitrate
  • Arsenic
  • Atrazine
  • Pesticides