The findings, published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, examine the association between living near commercial applications of pesticides ad having babies with autism, but do not show cause-and-effect. However, the study authors stated the developing fetal brain could be particularly vulnerable to pesticides.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that ranges in severity (often referred to as a spectrum disorder) and has been on an alarming rise over the last few years. The most recent studies state that 1 in 50 children in the United States are now being affected.
“We mapped where our study participants lived during pregnancy and around the time of birth,” said principal investigator Irva Hertz-Picciotto, vice chair of the Department of Public Health Services at the University of California, Davis.
There were about 1,000 participants in a study of families with an autistic child. The research gathered was based on data about commercial pesticide applications in California in combination with the residential addresses of the participants. California law requires detailed records on where, when and the amount of pesticides used, by kind.
“What we saw were several classes of pesticides more commonly applied near residences of mothers whose children developed autism or had delayed cognitive or other skills.”
Approximately one-third of the study participants lived about a mile from a site where commercial pesticides were applied.
Researchers learned the risks of autism were highest when the chemicals were applied during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
“This study validates the results of earlier research that has reported associations between having a child with autism and prenatal exposure to agricultural chemicals in California,” said lead study author Janie Shelton, a UC Davis graduate student.
“While we still must investigate whether certain sub-groups are more vulnerable to exposures to these compounds than others, the message is very clear: Women who are pregnant should take special care to avoid contact with agricultural chemicals whenever possible.”