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Herbicide Exposure in Pregnant Women

Graduate Research Assistant tests sample in lab

Glyphosate is the most commonly used agricultural chemical in the world. In the US, glyphosate use has doubled in the last decade alone. This increase in glyphosate use has been driven, in large part, by the introduction of glyphosate-resistant crops; the application of glyphosate-based herbicides, including Roundup, inhibits weed growth without harming the glyphosate-resistant crop itself. “Roundup Ready” crops such as corn, soy, canola, wheat, barley, beans, and sugarbeet all contribute to an increased chance for glyphosate residues to enter the food supply.

In 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate to be a “probable human carcinogen.” While controversial, this designation adds to a growing body of literature suggesting a possible relationship between glyphosate exposure and negative health outcomes at environmentally relevant levels. Human exposure to glyphosate and its formulations may occur through dietary, agricultural, and residential pathways, but there are significant gaps in human exposure estimates. Dr. Curl and her team aim to understand glyphosate exposure levels and pathways among pregnant women, a potentially vulnerable population.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Curl’s study will quantify pregnant women’s exposure to glyphosate and attribute that exposure to dietary and agricultural sources. The following aims will be addressed: 1) validate a longitudinal biomonitoring strategy to assess glyphosate exposure in pregnant women; 2) measure glyphosate exposure in a cohort of 40 pregnant women and quantify the relationship between this exposure and residential proximity to glyphosate-treated fields; and 3) measure the contribution of the dietary pathway to total glyphosate exposure.

Because glyphosate is the most extensively used herbicide in the US and worldwide, it is imperative that the scientific community come to consensus on the potential for glyphosate to lead to negative health effects. It is also important for research to quantify the degree to which the public is exposed, and this project will progress us toward that goal.

For more information, read this news story or contact Cynthia Curl.