Women who are pregnant and live in areas with high levels of pesticides are more likely to have a baby with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which affects brain development. Some characteristics of autism are the lack of social skills, lack of nonverbal or verbal communication skills, and the implementation of repetitive behaviors.
This new study examined data from over 1,000 families. These families had children between the ages of two and five. In the group, 316 children were developing normally, 168 children had some type of developmental delay, and 486 children had autism. The researchers were studying the relationship between where the mother lived and the risk of having a child with autism.
The study results showed that children, who were exposed to certain levels of pesticides while still in the womb, had a 60 to 200 percent greater chance of being diagnosed with autism. The risk of having autism was linked to the types of chemicals used, the proximity of the home to the areas with the pesticides, and the length of exposure to the chemicals.
Researchers reported that exposure to pesticides during the third trimester increased the baby’s risk of autism the most. The study also found that pregnant women, who lived near golf courses, farms, or other public areas, which continually use pesticides, have a higher risk of their baby developing autism.
Study author, Irva Hertz-Picciotto, explains that these neurodevelopmental disorders are not the result of a single element, but of many different elements, such as: maternal nutrition, maternal health, air pollution, and even chemicals used inside the home.
Even though it is many different factors that cause the risk of autism, researchers reasoned that pesticides alone greatly increase the risk because of their ability to affect neurons. Pesticides work on bugs by destroying their nervous system. These same chemicals could affect the baby’s brain and nervous system in a similar way.
Still, not everyone agrees with the study’s findings. One flaw of the study is that the researchers did not look at any new samples of data, but only data that was collected and gathered previously. Professor Philippe Grandjean, from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, also disagrees with the findings of this study. Grandjean argues that the study cannot pinpoint a specific substance as the problem, but also they cannot even specify what the levels of exposure are. Grandjean also believes that the study overlooked the contribution of residues consumed in food.
In a recent report from the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, in the past two years, the number of children with autism in the United States has increased by 30 percent. Since autism is linked to pesticides, air pollution, and also chemicals used inside the home, it is recommended to minimize or eliminate the use of pesticides used in the home or on the lawn. Instead of spraying pesticides for pests invading the home, like cockroaches, try pest management instead. Try sealing up cracks or crevices in the home, clean up food crumbs, or try non-toxic options.
By Sara Petersen