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Open Access Research article

Employment in the Ecuadorian cut-flower industry and the risk of spontaneous abortion

Alexis J Handal1* and Sioban D Harlow2

Author affiliations

1 Master in Public Health Program, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque, NM, USA

2 Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

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Citation and License

BMC International Health and Human Rights 2009, 9:25  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-9-25

Published: 8 October 2009

Abstract

Background

Research on the potentially adverse effects of occupational pesticide exposure on risk of spontaneous abortion (SAB) is limited, particularly among female agricultural workers residing in developing countries.

Methods

Reproductive histories were obtained from 217 Ecuadorian mothers participating in a study focusing on occupational pesticide exposure and children's neurobehavioral development. Only women with 2+ pregnancies were included in this study (n = 153). Gravidity, parity and frequency of SAB were compared between women with and without a history of working in the cut-flower industry in the previous 6 years. Logistic regression analysis was conducted to assess the relation between SAB and employment in the flower industry adjusting for maternal age.

Results

In comparison to women not working in the flower industry, women working in the flower industry were significantly younger (27 versus 32 years) and of lower gravidity (3.3 versus 4.5) and reported more pregnancy losses. A 2.6 (95% CI: 1.03-6.7) fold increase in the odds of pregnancy loss among exposed women was observed after adjusting for age. Odds of reporting an SAB increased with duration of flower employment, increasing to 3.4 (95% CI: 1.3, 8.8) among women working 4 to 6 years in the flower industry compared to women who did not work in the flower industry.

Conclusion

This exploratory analysis suggests a potential adverse association between employment in the cut-flower industry and SAB. Study limitations include the absence of a temporal relation between exposure and SAB, no quantification of specific pesticides, and residual confounding such as physical stressors (i.e., standing). Considering that approximately half of the Ecuadorian flower laborers are women, our results emphasize the need for an evaluating the reproductive health effects of employment in the flower industry on reproductive health in this population.