The mosquito was welcome company. I told myself that as long as it survived the aerial onslaught of chemicals, my unborn baby and I were safe, too.
I was sitting in a pickup, the windows rolled up tightly, just the lone mosquito and me inside. Across the narrow road, an airplane sliced back and forth over an orange grove. A fine white mist of pesticide drizzled down on the 40 acres of citrus below.
I was exactly halfway through my pregnancy, 20 weeks, and had conscientiously eaten balanced meals, swallowed vitamins daily, and avoided secondhand smoke and alcohol. But here I sat, almost directly below a crop-duster.
An environmental reporter for 12 years, I was on assignment in California’s farm-rich Imperial Valley, interviewing Native Americans living under the cloud of frequent pesticide spraying. I didn’t expect to be caught in the middle of one of those clouds, but suddenly, that is exactly where I found myself. As I scribbled notes, I sniffed for any telltale fumes and watched the mosquito out of the corner of my eye, just to make sure it didn’t drop dead on the dashboard.
I know the risks that ongoing exposure to toxic chemicals can pose to a child as it forms in the womb. But I also know enough about environmental problems to put my own risks from this one incident in perspective. Experts believe that for the typical pregnant woman, the amount of toxic residue found in today’s food, air and water poses little danger to her fetus. “Exposure of the average person under normal circumstances to any kinds of toxins is incredibly low,” says Michael Greene, M.D., director of maternal/fetal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Wherever we live, our bodies carry traces of chemicals that are left behind by the air we breathe, the water we drink and the foods we eat. Although those compounds can pass through the placenta to a fetus, only the most concentrated, consistent toxic exposures pose serious threats to pregnant women and their unborn children.
How to limit your exposure
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises that pregnant women avoid exposure to pesticides and industrial chemicals during pregnancy, especially during the vulnerable first trimester, when a baby’s vital systems are developing. Some physicians and environmentalists also suggest that pregnant and nursing women follow such precautions as these: