Pesticide Exposure in Young Kids Linked to Autism

A new study published last week raises further concerns about pesticide exposure – this time linking it to a higher risk of autism. The study found that pregnant women and children who lived within a mile of agricultural areas with lots of pesticide use had a higher likelihood of developing autism, and a much higher risk of developing severe autism if children were exposed in utero and an even higher risk if exposed during their first year. Ecowatch reported on the study, by researchers from UCLA, published in The BMJ, a medical journal, looking at data from California state-mandated pesticide use reporting and 3000 children born between 1998 and 2010 who were diagnosed with autism.

  • The study authors looked at 11 pesticides linked to intellectual impairment in animals and in humans in other studies, including the chemical chlorpyrifos, which EPA is under a court order to ban.
  • The study also looked at exposure to air pollution, the economic status of the mother and whether the mother lived in rural or urban areas and found that pesticide exposure increased the risk of autism.
  • The study does not prove the link to autism but does raise concerns and points to limiting the exposure of pregnant women and young children to pesticides if possible.

The CEO of the Autism Society of America told the magazine Health Day that studies like this are critical to understanding autism and its causes. Meanwhile, the journal Nature published an editorial opposing the EPA’s expected approval of the spraying of two human antibiotics on citrus groves in California and Florida. Calling it a “desperate act,” the editors argue that there is no evidence that this will work to eradicate a bacterial disease in citrus fruits called “Citrus greening” that is causing a major threat to the citrus industry. But they worry that spraying these antibiotics will lead to further resistance to them in humans.

Why This Matters: We need more scientific study of pesticides, and to act in a precautionary way when considering a novel approach like spraying fruit with antibiotics. There must be independent research on the use of antibiotics this way, particularly focusing on the impact on human health. Look where the use of pesticides without sufficient research got us – we do not understand even now the detrimental impacts of these chemicals on children and pregnant women. Many parents are refusing to vaccinate their children due to the myth that it raises the risk of developing autism, when the real culprit may be something like pesticides or exposure to other chemicals.

H/T to Tom S for sharing with ODP the antibiotics editorial in Nature.

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