Health problems in children — including autism, ADHD, asthma, obesity and leukemia– have been linked to toxic chemicals, especially from exposures during early development. Brain-based disorders, including reductions in IQ and behavioral problems, are particularly worrisome. During pregnancy, the baby’s brain develops rapidly and continues to grow and mature through childhood, making it particularly vulnerable to chemical exposures.
The Heartland Study will measure biological and epigenetic biomarkers from mother-infant pairs to examine whether birth outcomes and developmental anomalies are triggered by herbicide exposures during fetal development. Here we briefly describe our major objectives.
- Enroll 2,000 mother-infant pairs at eight or more hospitals across the Midwest, and monitor the health and development of participating children through age 3 (and longer, pending funding).
- Collect a maternal urine sample during three trimesters of pregnancy, and quantify herbicide exposure levels. Collect and test a urine sample from children at birth, 1, 2, and 3 years of age.
- Quantify single herbicide and cumulative herbicide exposures and investigate associated health risks in pregnancy, fetal development, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.
- Collect cheek swabs from infants, parents and a subset of grandparents, for genomic analysis to assess linkages between markers of herbicide-induced epigenetic change and observed health outcomes.
- Identify risk factors for herbicide exposures among enrolled mother-infant pairs using surveys.
- Establish baseline levels of herbicides in urine circa 1990 across the Midwest, and analyze trends in herbicide exposures by generating new biomonitoring data to compile with existing datasets.
- Develop and make widely available detailed indicators of change in herbicide use by crop at the national, Midwestern, and individual state levels.
- Test the ability of novel, pesticide-use-based exposure metrics to predict actual, measured herbicide levels in study participants.
- Estimate the relative contribution of different exposure pathways to total herbicide exposures.
- Identify environmentally-induced epigenetic biomarkers as potential predictors for reproductive, developmental, and disease risk, and/or transgenerational inheritance.
- Develop and test new methods to (a) understand the impact of simultaneous exposures to multiple herbicides in triggering reproductive problems and adverse birth outcomes, and (b) quantify the relative contribution of individual herbicides to total, herbicide-induced risk.
Outreach and Communication Objectives
- All outreach will be done in mind with reaching our diverse audience, ranging from parents to scientists to policy makers. In other words, our findings will be interpreted and presented for both laypeople and a more technical reader.
- Compile and make widely available information on herbicide use and exposure, and possible public health impacts.
- Widely disseminate Heartland Study data, findings, and conclusions.
- Support and promote farming and weed management system innovations that show promise in reducing reliance on high-risk herbicides.
- Help multiple stakeholders understand the linkages between farming system choices, weed management technology, and herbicide use, exposure, and related risks.