Pesticides & Links to Autism

A new research study aimed to determine whether living close by to an area where agricultural pesticides are used have an influence on developing autism. The study used 970 children born in farm-rich areas of Northern California to test this theory. 

The study found that the babies of moms who live within a mile of crops treated with widely used pesticides were more likely to develop autism by 60% when compared to children whose mothers do not live close to treated fields. This risk was greatest during their second and third trimesters.

Though the study does not show that pesticides themselves are a cause for autism, it does show that any exposure to farming chemicals during pregnancy could have negative and lasting effects for your child. This is actually the largest project to date that has attempted to explore the links between autism and environmental exposures.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto of the University of California, Davis MIND Institute, who worked on the study explains, “what we saw were several classes of pesticides more commonly applied near the residences of mothers whose children developed autism or had delayed cognitive or other skills.” For example, kids born to mothers exposed to organophosphates were 60% more likely to have autism. Pyrethroids were also linked to an increase risk in autism and carbamates were linked to developmental delays. 

Many of the mothers lived next to fields that were treated with several different pesticides throughout their pregnancies so separating the potential risks of each chemical was a challenge that scientists are still working on. Apart from this, researchers want to look at how environmental exposures affect people with different genetic make-up in different ways. Janie Shelton, epidemiologist and lead study author says, “We need to know if some moms are at a higher risk than others and what that risk is. Knowing who is most vulnerable is key to understanding how to better protect them.”

The ICare4Autism International Autism Conference will feature presentations from top medical professionals in the Autism field, including a presentation on “Detecting Risk for ASD in the first year of life” by Celine Saulnier, Clinical Director for Research at the Marcus Autism Center and Assistant Professor in the Division of Autism and Related Disorders at the Emory University School of Medicine. To see her presentation as well as many others, click here for tickets!