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A newly published peer-reviewed paper reports on HHRA-funded research about rising exposure to 2,4-D herbicide.

Archived HHRA News Posts
  • HHRA’s 2023 Annual Report

    Last year was a year of progress and transition for the HHRA and the Heartland Study. Read about it here!  

  • Supporting HHRA and the Heartland Study Through Donor-Advised Funds

    An increasingly popular way to manage charitable giving is by donating cash, securities, or other assets into a donor-advised fund (DAF), from which you will receive an immediate tax deduction. From this, donors can recommend grants to IRS-qualified nonprofit organizations.  DAFs are one of the easiest and most tax-advantageous ways to “grow” resources earmarked for future charitable giving.  The HHRA is an IRS-qualified organization, and we encourage you to use your DAF, if you have one, to support our mission. You can find three simple steps to supporting our research via your DAF here.  Simple and convenient, your DAF can have genuine effects on the health of mothers, babies, and future generations.  Thank you!

  • HHRA-funded Dicamba study published in “agrochemicals”

    Dicamba and 2,4-D in the Urine of Pregnant Women in the Midwest: Comparison of Two Cohorts (2010–2012 vs. 2020–2022) Abstract Currently, there are no known human biomonitoring studies that concurrently examine biomarkers of dicamba and 2,4-D. We sought to compare biomarkers of exposure to herbicides in pregnant women residing in the US Midwest before and after the adoption of dicamba-tolerant soybean technology using urine specimens obtained in 2010–2012 from the Nulliparous Pregnancy Outcomes Study: Monitoring Mothers-to-be (N = 61) and in 2020–2022 from the Heartland Study (N = 91). Specific gravity-standardized concentration levels for each analyte were compared between the cohorts, assuming data are lognormal and specifying values below the LOD as left-censored. The proportion of pregnant individuals with dicamba detected above the LOD significantly increased from 28% (95% CI: 16%, 40%) in 2010–2012 to 70% (95% CI: 60%, 79%) in 2020–2022, and dicamba concentrations also significantly increased from 0.066 μg/L (95% CI: 0.042, 0.104) to 0.271 μg/L (95% CI: 0.205, 0.358). All pregnant individuals from both cohorts had 2,4-D detected. Though 2,4-D concentration levels increased, the difference was not significant (p-value = 0.226). Reliance on herbicides has drastically increased in the last ten years in the United States, and the results obtained in this study highlight the need to track exposure and impacts on adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes. Keywords: pesticide; exposure; 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid; human biomonitoring You can read the paper here.

  • Crop-killing Weeds Advance Across US as Herbicides Lose Effectiveness

    Farmers say they are losing their battle with weeds at a time when growers are grappling with inflation and extreme weather linked to climate change. Crop-killing weeds such as kochia are advancing across the U.S. northern plains and Midwest, in the latest sign that weeds are developing resistance to chemicals faster than companies including Bayer and Corteva  can develop new ones to fight them. In many cases weeds are developing resistance against multiple herbicides, scientists said. Read the Reuters report here.  Read an earlier post by the HHRA board chair on the problem of resistant weeds here.

  • Heartland Health Research Alliance logo Help Lead this Worthy Cause: The HHRA is Recruiting Board Members

    We are publicly recruiting for board positions to ensure that we move beyond our immediate networks and honor our ongoing commitment to creating a board that is diverse in its composition, inclusive in its culture, and equity-focused in its approach to how it views its mission, its work, and the communities it serves. Our board members are the fiduciaries who steer the HHRA toward a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies, as well as by making sure the HHRA has adequate resources to advance its mission. The Heartland Health Research Alliance (HHRA) is a 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2020 and dedicated to creating a new future in which cultivating health is the priority of farming. Our mission is to help inform the decisions shaping agriculture by advancing research on the health effects of food and farming. The HHRA seeks to fill vacancies on its board with qualified volunteers who, in addition to the standard roles and responsibilities (see below) of a board member, will be active advocates and ambassadors for the organization. Preferred qualifications 1. Professional experience in public health, medical research, epidemiology, toxicology, or organic farming, 2. A network or experience, or both, that may facilitate grant seeking and fundraising. 3. Commitment to the scientific method and the integrity of research. Essential information 1. The board of the HHRA is a volunteer board. 2. Each term is for three years, to which members can be re-elected once. 3. The board meets four times a year via the Internet. Expectations The HHRA expects each board member to honor the HHRA values and mission, act in the best interest of the HHRA, prepare for the board meetings by reading the agenda and reports, participate in the board meetings, and identify personal and professional connections for HHRA fundraising, grant-seeking, and policy influence. Process 1. To apply to volunteer, please send your CV and a one-page cover letter providing your name, contact information, and a description of either which of the preferred qualifications (above) you will bring to the HHRA or how your unique qualifications can help the HHRA.  Send these materials to Russell K. King, HHRA executive director, at . 2. Qualified applications will be reviewed by the current board, which will vote on whether to seat a volunteer as a member. (The next board meeting is in February 2024.) 3. The recruiting process will remain open until all seats are filled. Standard board member duties 1) Board members should advance the mission of the organization Overall, spreading awareness for your mission will promote growth and empower your team to flourish in its work. 2) Board members should prepare for and attend board meetings Review the agenda in advance. Everyone should understand all matters on the agenda heading into the meeting. Participation in discussions is a big part of why you choose someone for a role on the board. Fulfilling these duties is part of acting in good faith for any board member. 3) Board members hire, set compensation for, support, and collaborate with the executive director Hiring and supporting the executive director is one of the most important board member responsibilities.  The executive director is the professional hired to as bring nonprofit leadership and operational expertise to the HRRA’s daily operations and to advice and educate the board on matters relating to nonprofit governance and operations, so this board role is crucial to the organization’s health. 4) Board members are responsible for recruiting new members Drawing on your professional and personal networks, seek new members who have needed skills and qualities that are missing from the current board. 5) Every board member must fulfill three specific core legal responsibilities. Duty of Care Attending meetings and actively participating. Communicating with the executive director and other board members. Following through on assignments.. Supporting programs. Duty of Loyalty Support HHRA’s mission. Be a loyal ambassador for HHRA’s cause. All activities and decisions should be in the best interest of the organization, not in the best interest of the individual board member. Support the HHRA executive director. Duty of Obedience Adhere to HHRA’s bylaws, policies, and board decisions.

Extracting New Insights from Old Data on a Pressing Concern — The Rapid Rise in Reliance on 2,4-D Herbicide in the Heartland

Feb 10th, 2022
Feb 10th, 2022
A newly published peer-reviewed paper reports on HHRA-funded research about rising exposure to 2,4-D herbicide.

 By: Marlaina Freisthler*

Leveraging existing research is central to HHRA’s strategy to accelerate progress in answering contemporary questions about the health impacts of pesticide exposures. One of HHRA’s goals is to draw on existing datasets to glean new insights into pesticide exposure levels, trends, and health impacts. We use pesticide levels in human urine, known as biomarkers, as our primary method of estimating exposure.

As a doctoral student in Environmental Health at George Washington University, I have had the opportunity to work with a team of distinguished researchers to publish a paper in Environmental Health reporting new insights from one such effort to use existing datasets to answer new questions. We report clear associations between trends in the use of the herbicide 2,4-D since 2001 and the frequency of exposures to 2,4-D over time and across the U.S. population. I receive generous doctoral funding sponsored by HHRA to support my research on herbicide exposures and their health impacts, including the costs to publish my research.

In our research leading to this new publication, our team studied the percent of the population with detectable levels of 2,4-D in their urine across 6 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. NHANES is a large and valuable public dataset providing information about the health and environmental exposures experienced by a representative sample of Americans.  We were able to evaluate data on 14,395 people with available 2,4-D exposure biomarker levels who participated in NHANES between 2001 and 2014.

Our core question was simple and important: Do trends in 2,4-D herbicide use impact trends in 2,4-D exposure levels?

To conduct our analysis, we extracted data on 2,4-D herbicide use from HHRA’s Pesticide Use Data System (PUDS).  All data in PUDS come from annual pesticide use surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By combining 2,4-D exposure data from NHANES with 2,4-D use data from PUDS, we found:

  • Around 33% of the people in NHANES had detectable levels of 2,4-D in their urine.
  • The frequency of human exposures to 2,4-D rose from around 17% in 2001-2002 to almost 40% at the peak in 2011-2012.
  • Increasing agricultural use of 2,4-D was clearly associated with increasing odds of detecting of 2,4-D in people’s urine.
  • The odds for increasing exposure detections were more than twice as high for children aged 6-11 compared to adults;
  • The odds for increasing exposure detections were also twice as high for women of childbearing age as for men in the same age group.
The findings that 2,4-D levels were higher in women of childbearing age and young children is particularly concerning as these populations are more vulnerable to pesticide exposure.

We are particularly concerned by the last two findings noted above. Some physical and neurological processes that are still developing in fetuses, infants, and young children are far more susceptible to harmful impacts from chemical exposures. This means that women of childbearing age and young children are vulnerable segments of the U.S. population when exposed to chemicals like 2,4-D. This is especially important because NHANES includes only a small number of pregnant women and has not been used to sample children under age 6 for 2,4-D biomarkers, though infants and toddlers often demonstrate even higher levels of exposure to some chemicals than older children. We want to know why women and children are having these more extreme increases in detections of exposure to 2,4-D, in the hope that answers will lead to actionable steps to reduce exposures to these most vulnerable segments of the population.

Answering our core question is particularly important now, as use of 2,4-D and other herbicides rises sharply across the country, and especially in the Midwest.  This is why our scientists are measuring 2,4-D exposure as part of HHRA’s flagship project, The Heartland Study.

Projections indicate that around two-thirds of the soybean seed sold to farmers in the next few years will be genetically engineered to tolerate both 2,4-D and glyphosate (i.e., Roundup). We expect that reliance on these types of “next-generation” seeds engineered to have multiple herbicide tolerances will continue the sharp increases in use of 2,4-D and other herbicides. In fact, HHRA projects that by 2030, 2,4-D use in the Heartland will exceed glyphosate use, as shown in the dynamic data visualization below.

Our study results indicate that with these increasing uses of 2,4-D, there could very likely be increased population exposures, which our research team is continuing to study. Other ongoing HHRA-funded research projects are exploring the changes in other herbicide exposure levels over time in Midwestern women and the impacts of herbicide exposures on birth outcomes and children’s development.

Below you will find the George Washington University press release announcing publication of our study, a link to access the paper, and the dynamic graphic showing expected increases in 2,4-D use through 2030.

*Marlaina  Freisthler is a PhD student and researcher at the George Washington University. Her graduate fellowship is supported by HHRA.



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