Science and Tech


Pesticide Exposure In Pregnant Women, Autism Linked In Study

A new study out of California found a connection between pregnant mothers' exposure to pesticides and the risk their children will have autism.
Posted at 4:35 PM, Jun 23, 2014

If you're pregnant, where you live could have an effect on your child's health. Researchers out of California have discovered a potential link between children with autism and certain pesticides. 

​​"Researchers at UC Davis found that women who live near farms that use chemical pesticides have a two-thirds higher risk of having a child with autism." (Via KREX)

The researchers believe for some specific pesticides, this is especially true just before conception and during the third trimester. But for others, the time of exposure reportedly didn't seem to matter. (Via WCAU)

"Women who live within a mile of where a lot of pesticides are used had a 60 percent higher risk. ... The study was done in California, and that's where there's 200 million pounds of pesticides used every year." (Via HLN)

The researchers believe the women were most likely exposed through pesticides that drifted into the air. Now, it's not just farms that can heighten the risk of exposure — pesticides are used in many other public spaces such as golf courses. 

Nine hundred and seventy pregnant woman were examined, and researchers used maps to track exposure — about a third of the participants lived within a mile of where chemicals were sprayed. The results showed 486 children with an autism spectrum disorder,168 with a developmental delay and 316 kids with normal development. (Via New York Daily News

An autism researcher at the University of Arkansas told The Verge these results should be taken very seriously. According to the outlet: "Taking steps to prevent autism and other developmental delays is 'much better for society' than treating children 'once they have been born with such abnormalities.' But to do that, he said, we need to proactively educate mothers about the risks — and what they can do to fight back."

Even families who don't live near areas that are spayed can take preventive steps, such as avoiding chemical pesticide use for, say, cockroaches. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Alkort / Alvesgaspar)

It's important to note, researchers only discovered a link, not a cause-and-effect relationship. Also, because of the data collection method, the amount of exposure for each participant was not measurable. 

Which makes a professor of environmental health at Harvard a bit skeptical of the results. He told CBS: "This study cannot pinpoint specific substances as a culprit. ... Also, they cannot relate to specific levels of exposure, and they have not taken into account the possible contribution by residues in food." 

Researchers at UC Davis hope to do more research on the subject in the future. There is currently no known cure for autism spectrum disorders.