The Heartland Study will pioneer new, critically-needed methods to identify the impacts of prenatal and early life herbicide exposures. It is the first-ever study to track heritable, epigenetic changes resulting from herbicide exposure in a human population.
HHRA’s flagship project, The Heartland Study, is an observational medical research project taking place at hospitals in the 13-state Heartland region.
The Heartland Study is designed to answer critical questions about the potential impacts of herbicides on mother and infant health, including whether there is a connection between herbicide exposure and birth defects or developmental challenges.
This work is crucial due to the ongoing, rapid increase in the use of several high-risk herbicides that began in 2016. The rising use of herbicides shows little sign of slowing, driven by the continuing spread of herbicide-resistant weeds.
What We Will Do
- Enroll at least 2,000 mother-infant pairs living in 13 Midwestern states by 2025.
- Collect ~10,000 urine samples to track herbicide and insecticide exposure levels in moms, dads, and babies.
- Document women’s health during pregnancy and the health and development of Heartland Study babies through age 16.
Why The Heartland Study?
The American Heartland is now the epicenter of rising herbicide use in the U.S. Many moms are conceiving and raising children in areas surrounded by corn and soybean fields. Other families in the Heartland are exposed to herbicides via drinking water, dust and blowing soil, and the air. Nearly everyone in the region is exposed to multiple herbicides on a near-daily basis through the food they eat, the beverages they drink, and the air they breath.
Research hints at an “April-June effect,” where health problems are linked to the three months when the bulk of herbicides are applied in the Heartland. Why? Because in some studies moms who conceive during the peak herbicide spray season tend to have a higher incidence of reproductive problems and difficult pregnancies. They also tend to give birth to more pre-term babies (born after less than 36 weeks of pregnancy) and babies who are born under the ideal weight.
Recent science raises new concerns. Strong evidence points to herbicides as a risk factor for autism. Herbicide exposure can also alter how a newborn’s genes are expressed, leading to abnormal patterns in the development of a baby’s nervous system and brain, or a child’s immune system and reproductive organs. Such gene-expression driven impacts can increase the risk of adult-onset disease through a process known as epigenetics, and even sometimes over multiple generations.
The Heartland Study is the first large clinical research project designed to assess whether prenatal herbicide exposures are leading to epigenetic disruptions that might play a role in the life-long health of people living in Heartland states.
Our science is guided by the Heartland Study Management Team, our research partners, and our Science Advisory Board. Our mission is to synthesize toxicology, epidemiology, obstetrics, and genomics research findings to determine the role of herbicides, if any, in the frequency and severity of observable adverse birth outcomes and problem pregnancies.
Our mission is to generate knowledge that guides changes in the ways farmers control weeds by focusing new science on the most important outcome: healthy babies that develop normally and retain their full potential for productive and healthy lives.