Freisthler et al., 2022

Freisthler, Marlaina S., Robbins, C. Rebecca, Benbrook, Charles M., Young, Heather A., Haas, David M., Winchester, Paul D., & Perry, Melissa J.; “Association between increasing agricultural use of 2,4-D and population biomarkers of exposure: findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2001–2014;” Environmental Health, 2022, 21(1); DOI: 10.1186/s12940-021-00815-x.


BACKGROUND: 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) is one of the most extensively used herbicides in the United States. In 2012, 2,4-D was the most widely used herbicide in non-agricultural settings and the fifth most heavily applied pesticide in the US agricultural sector. The objective of this study was to examine trends in 2,4-D urinary biomarker concentrations to determine whether increases in 2,4-D application in agriculture are associated with increases in biomonitoring levels of urine 2,4-D.

METHODS: Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) with available urine 2,4-D biomarker measurements from survey cycles between 2001 and 2014 were utilized. Urine 2,4-D values were dichotomized using the highest limit of detection (LOD) across all cycles (0.40 mug/L or 0.4 ppb). Agricultural use of 2,4-D was estimated by compiling publicly available federal and private pesticide application data. Logistic regression models adjusted for confounders were fitted to evaluate the association between agricultural use of 2,4-D and urine 2,4-D level above the dichotomization threshold.

RESULTS: Of the 14,395 participants included in the study, 4681 (32.5%) had urine 2,4-D levels above the dichotomization threshold. The frequency of participants with high 2,4-D levels increased significantly (p < .0001), from a low of 17.1% in 2001-2002 to a high of 39.6% in 2011-2012. The adjusted odds of high urinary 2,4-D concentrations associated with 2,4-D agricultural use (per ten million pounds applied) was 2.268 (95% CI: 1.709, 3.009). Children ages 6-11 years (n = 2288) had 2.1 times higher odds of having high 2,4-D urinary concentrations compared to participants aged 20-59 years. Women of childbearing age (age 20-44 years) (n = 2172) had 1.85 times higher odds than men of the same age.

CONCLUSIONS: Agricultural use of 2,4-D has increased substantially from a low point in 2002 and it is predicted to increase further in the coming decade. Because increasing use is likely to increase population level exposures, the associations seen here between 2,4-D crop application and biomonitoring levels require focused biomonitoring and epidemiological evaluation to determine the extent to which rising use and exposures cause adverse health outcomes among vulnerable populations (particularly children and women of childbearing age) and highly exposed individuals (farmers, other herbicide applicators, and their families).