Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
Researchers at the University of California in Davis have recently confirmed that pregnant mothers living in proximity to fields treated with pesticides are at a higher risk for having children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The study examined three different varieties of widely-used insecticides: organophosphates, pyrethroids and carbamates. Each was found to play a role in autism or other developmental delays.
The connection between pesticides, autism and lower IQ
Since California is one of the few states to require rigorous reporting and mapping of agricultural pesticide use, researchers involved in the study were able to use this data to track exposure during pregnancy for mothers of 970 children.
Out of the total number of children included in the study, 486 were autistic, 168 had developmental delay (DD) and the remaining 316 were typical in development. Children with developmental delay are classified as those who take extra time to achieve communication, motor or social skill milestones — about 4 percent of American children. Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that one in 68 children has ASD, which is also characterized by deficits in language and social interaction.
“Ours is the third study to specifically link autism spectrum disorders to pesticide exposure, whereas more papers have demonstrated links with developmental delay,” said lead author Janie F. Shelton.
Published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the study found that about one-third of the mothers had lived within a mile of pesticide-treated agricultural fields. Proximity to organophosphates at some point during pregnancy was connected with a 60 percent increased risk for ASD. And “[c]hildren of mothers residing near pyrethroid insecticide applications just prior to conception or during 3rd trimester were at greater risk for both ASD and DD.” As for those in close range to the agricultural use of carbamate pesticides, a higher risk of developmental delays was found, but not ASDs.
Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, suspects that the women studied were most likely exposed through pesticide sprays that were airborne. Although Landrigan was not involved in the study, he aptly notes:
“We already knew from animal studies as well as from epidemiologic studies of women and children that prenatal exposure (to pesticides) is associated with lower IQ. … This study builds on that, uses the population of a whole state, looks at multiple different pesticides and finds a pattern of wide association between pesticide exposure and developmental disability.”
Landrigan adds, “One lesson or message for parents is to minimize or eliminate use of pesticides in their own homes.” In light of these recent findings, completely banning the use of harmful chemical pesticides across the board isn’t an unreasonable idea either.
UPdated October 2014
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