Environmental exposure to pesticides, both before birth and during the first year of life, has been linked to an increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, according to the largest epidemiological study to date on the connection.
Findings published in British Medical Journal (BMJ), found that pregnant women who lived within 1.2 miles of a highly-sprayed agricultural area in California had children who were 10 to 16 percent more likely to develop autism and 30 percent more likely to develop severe autism that impacted their intellectual ability.
Also the study found, if children were exposed to pesticides during their first year of infancy, they may may have a small to moderately increased risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared to unexposed children.
The study looked at nearly 3,000 children diagnosed with autism who were born between 1998 and 2010 and compared them with more than 35,000 other children who were not diagnosed.
Ondine von Ehrenstein, a professor at the School of Public Health, University of California said: “I would hope that these findings would make some policy makers think about effective public health policy measures to protect populations who may be vulnerable and living in areas that could put them at higher risk.
“Raising awareness in the public may be the way to eventually change practices and agricultural policies.”
Researchers looked at exposure to 11 pesticides specifically that had been linked to intellectual impairment in animals and smaller human populations.
The pesticides studied included diazinon, permethrin and chlorpyrifos. Chlorpyrifos has been the centre of controversy recently as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the direction of Andrew Wheeler has demanded a new trial after a court ordered the agency to ban the pesticide that was found unsafe by its own scientists.