Autism Risk Factors Include In Utero Pesticide Exposure, Finds UC Davis Research

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Autism risk factors can fairly confidently now include long-time suspects, agricultural pesticides, says a new study. According to the research, the risk for having a child with autism increase by as much as 60 percent if a pregnant woman is exposed to pesticides.

The study, conducted by researchers at UC Davis, was published in the current issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and joins a growing list of studies pointing towards environmental issues as leading autism risk factors.

“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, UC Davis’ Janie F. Shelton who told Reuters that more research is needed on the subject before there can be a conclusive statement that link pesticides to autism, but a direct link is plausible she said.

The study tracked 970 pregnant women in California where pesticide use is well mapped. According to the New York Daily News, “about a third of mothers [in the study] had lived within a mile of fields treated with pesticides, most commonly organophosphates.”

When a pregnant woman was exposed to organophosphates, her child had a 60 percent higher chance of having an autism spectrum disorder than mothers who were not exposed to those chemicals, the study authors notes.

“Autism risk was also increased with exposure to so-called pyrethroid insecticides, as was the risk for developmental delay,” reported the Daily News. “Carbamate pesticides were linked to developmental delay but not ASDs.”

The risk factors for autism seemed to vary by when the women in the study were exposed to pesticides. Some women who were exposed even before conception increased their child’s risk, but for many women, it didn’t matter when they were exposed to the pesticides.

What’s more, this study almost certainly underestimates the true strength of the association between pesticides and neurological problems, he said, since it did not precisely measure each individual woman’s exposure.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.