Pesticide Exposure Linked to Autism Risk
If you need more convincing that buying, serving, and eating organic produce is worth the extra effort and expense, consider this: A new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives shows that women who lived near farm fields where pesticides were being applied were at two-thirds greater risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Two-thirds greater risk! "Near" was defined as living within one mile of a field where agricultural pesticides were sprayed.
According to researchers at the University of California-Davis, exposure to pesticides during the second or third trimester of pregnancy was even more strongly associated with the risk of giving birth to a child with ASD. California is the nation's top agricultural producer, so it was fertile ground for the study, which examined the link between prenatal exposure to common agricultural pesticides and the risk of development delays and/or ASD.
Two hundred million pounds of industrial chemicals are dumped on crops in California every year. Critics contend that many of these products are neurotoxic, meaning they damage or otherwise interfere with the nervous system. They are strongly suspected of posing threats to brain development during gestation, potentially resulting in developmental delay or autism.
During gestation, the brain and nervous system of the fetus develops especially rapidly. Introducing even trace amounts of chemicals known to be toxic to the nervous system comes at a stiff cost. "In that early developmental gestational period, the brain is developing synapses, the spaces between neurons, where electrical impulses are turned into neurotransmitting chemicals that leap from one neuron to another to pass messages along. The formation of these junctions is really important and may well be where these pesticides are operating and affecting neurotransmission," principal investigator Irva Hertz-Picciotto said, in a press release.
So there you have it. Yet more evidence that the toxic chemicals used to grow conventional produce are contributing to the alarming rise in the incidence of ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders here and abroad. If you happen to live near a working farm, you may wish to do all you can to avoid accidental—or incidental— exposure to any chemicals being used. And for goodness sake, switch to organic produce. It's the only way you can be sure you and your family are not consuming this toxic junk directly.
Janie F. Shelton, Estella Marie Geraghty, Daniel J. Tancredi, Lora D. Delwiche, Rebecca J. Schmidt, Beate Ritz, Robin L. Hansen, Irva Hertz-Picciotto. Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Prenatal Residential Proximity to Agricultural Pesticides: The CHARGE Study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2014; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1307044