Autism may be linked to pesticides

Crop sprayer

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2014 —  As autism rates have continued to climb in the United States reaching 1 in every 68 children according to CDC data, expectant parents have looked for ways to prevent the developmental disability.

A study released yesterday from University of California at Davis MIND institute, one of the top research facilities on autism spectrum disorders in the country, shows a strong link between autism and where a woman lives when she is pregnant.

The study shows that women who live near agricultural fields where pesticides are sprayed have a higher chance of having a child who will later be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder than those who do not.

The research showed that mothers who were exposed to organophosphates while pregnant had a two thirds greater chance of having a child with autism.

The study determined that exposure to these pesticides in the second and third trimester were the most at risk.

UC Davis wanted to expand on a prior study conducted seven years ago that focused on the Central Valley of California, which first showed the connection between pesticides and autism.

The study published in “Environmental Health Perspective”, used data from the California Pesticide Use report to show where and what type of pesticides were used.

The team then plotted the home sites during pregnancy of about 1,000 participants with autism, developmental delays or normal development.

The results revealed that about one third of the participant mothers had lived less than one mile from where pesticides were sprayed.

The further away from the spray site a family lived, the less likely their children were to have been diagnosed with autism.

The link was so clear that professor and vice chair of the Department of Public Health and Services at UC Davis, Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto has suggested that expectant families living close to agricultural fields or spray zones may want to leave town or keep their children away or keep windows in the home closed.

The pesticides that were sprayed in the areas investigated were organophosphates, organochlorines, pyrethroids and carbamates. These are common pesticides used on a variety of crops in the United States, including melon, oranges and cotton.

The study picked out pesticides of particular concern as chlorpyrifos during the second trimester of pregnancy and organophosphates during the third.

Research also showed that the use of Carbamates near a pregnant woman is connected to other developmental delays of the child.

Although there is no known cause of autism, external factors have been a focus for years as the numbers of diagnosed children has continued to climb, including an increase by 30 percent over just the past two years.

According to “Autism Speaks”, an advocacy group, autism spectrum disorders are characterized by social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors.

Symptoms and severity very widely and can affect one person mildly and others may have severe impact that interfere with everyday life.

Researchers admit that although the conclusions of the study are compelling, there are some unavoidable limitations such as not taking into consideration pesticide exposure from other sources like foods and those designed for home use for pest control.

The use of pesticides might be one more piece in the mysterious puzzle of autism.

UC Davis MIND, will continue to perform research on the causes of autism.

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