Associate Professor, OBGYN
Harvard Medical School
Instructor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
Licensed Therapist & LCSW
RESOLVE Committee Member
The LatinX population in the United States is racially, ethnically, socioeconomically, geographically and occupationally diverse. That said, there are clusters of the LatinX population occupying jobs that expose them to more toxicants and industrial hazards than the population at large.
One example would be agricultural labor where, according to the National Resources Defense Council, “88% of farm workers are Latinos and they and their families face regular pesticide exposure.”
The foremost work on how LatinX families are impacted by such exposure comes from the respected CHAMACOS study, following the long-term outcomes from 600 pregnant LatinX women (and their offspring) living in one of California’s prominent agricultural regions.
Investigators noted a correlation between a delay to pregnancy and maternal occupational exposure to pesticides, use of pesticides in the house, and residency within 200 feet of an agricultural field.
The CHAMACOS investigators went further and drew startling conclusions about how pesticide exposure impacted pregnancies and children.
CHAMACOS also highlighted that people don’t need to be working in the fields themselves to suffer the dangers of pesticide exposure. If a member of the family entering the house has been exposed in the fields, they can bring pesticides into the house on their skin, hair, clothes, and boots. Likewise, as we saw above, inhabitants of a house near fields where pesticides are sprayed may be vulnerable to exposure from pesticides drifting into the home.
To mitigate the risk of exposure, investigators from the CHACAMOS study have recommended approaches which we summarize below. To be certain, complying with some measures will be easier than others but all of them are needed to mitigate risk.
According to the NRDC, members of the LatinX community in the United States are twice as likely to work as laborers, and thus, take on exposure to industrial chemicals.
One example might be PDBEs, flame retardants historically used in furniture and electronics that can cause exposure to those in the manufacturing, repairing, disassembling or scrapping process.
Multiple bodies and governments have moved to limit PDBE use, and the CHAMACOS investigators saw a clear correlation between PDBE exposure and delayed ability to conceive.
People can also be exposed to the effects of PDBE as their household products and furniture gradually deteriorate. For this reason, continually removing household dust, mopping, and vacuuming can be crucial in comparing the effects that PDBE can bring.
We should highlight the real goal of such continual cleaning is to remove dirt, mold, and spores that can accumulate in any home. It’s easy to conflate “cleanliness” with fragrance and use products that perfume a room. The reality is that the ingredients used to manufacture such an odor are themselves possibly toxic, and a good smell is certainly no substitute for cleanliness.
According to the NRDC report “Environmental Health Threats in the Latino Community,” 23% of LatinX households don’t believe their primary source of water is safe to drink.
As a result, LatinX populations in the U.S. consume bottled water at rates far higher than the national averages. This is relevant from a fertility perspective because resins like BPA are used in plastics, including those used to make some water bottles and food storage containers (as well as food packaging, receipt slips and more).
BPA has been shown to interfere with ovarian development. As a result, efforts to purchase or keep water in other containers (e.g. glass, cardboard, metal) may be productive. Similarly, leftover food should be stored and microwaved in glass containers rather than plastic. Note that even plastic containers labelled “BPA free” may contain replacement chemicals that are similar to BPA, making glass or metal better choices.
Like BPA, phthalates are hormone disrupting chemicals that are found in vinyl plastics and also in some fragrances in cosmetics, air fresheners, and cleaning products. In addition to minimizing water and food storage in plastics, prospective parents may want to reduce the use of scented products, including using safer, “greener” cleaning products.
What’s more, data from Harvard suggests that when women consume higher levels of folate (commonly found in beans, eggs, leafy greens and other staples of the Mexican diet) or folic acid (which is folate in supplement form), it may counterbalance the harmful effects of BPA and phthalates on fertility, as you can see from the data below.
The same team from Harvard also noticed a similar possibly “protective” effect from incorporating soy into one’s diet.