By Julie Wilson
Research published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives has found a correlation between pregnant women living near pesticide application sites and a significant increase in the prevalence of autism and developmental delays in babies.
The conclusion was reached based on a population control study that observed the effects common crop chemicals have on gestational exposure.
“We evaluated whether residential proximity to agricultural pesticides during pregnancy is associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or developmental delay (DD) in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment (CHARGE) study.”
Using commercial pesticide application data from the California Pesticide Use Report from 1997–2008, researchers assessed the impact the chemicals had on 970 pregnant participants.
Mounting research highlights pesticide effects on unborn children
About 33 percent of the study’s participants lived less than one mile from agricultural sites treated with various types of pesticides.
Expecting mothers residing near the application of organophosphates had a 60 percent higher risk of their baby developing autism. The risk was even higher for babies exposed during the third-trimester, and for second-trimester exposure to chlorpyrifos.
“Organophosphates are a group of chemicals that have many domestic and industrial uses, though they are most commonly used as Insecticides and are responsible for a number of poisonings,” according to Toxipedia.
“The main mechanism is blocking the enzyme acetylcholinesterase causing nervous and respiratory damages that result in the insects death, but they are also hazardous to humans. ”
Organophosphates are the most commonly used pesticides in the United States, making up 70 percent of pesticide applications.
Home insecticide linked to autism
Chlorpyrifos, an insecticide now banned for use in homes, is still used widely in agriculture to kill a variety of pests including rootworms, cockroaches, beetles, fire ants and many other insects.
It’s also used on golf courses, and to control fire ants and mosquitoes for public health purposes, according to the National Pesticide Information Center.
Due to its toxicity to humans, pesticide regulators in California have sought to limit use of the chemical. However, chlorpyrifos is still applied to more than 60 crops, including grain, cotton, fruit, nut and vegetable crops.
It is also registered for direct use on turkeys and sheep, dog kennels, for horse site treatment and at commercial establishments.
The health effects of chlorpyrifos are widely known. In fact, the chemical is documented as having caused numerous cases of pesticide poisoning in several California counties. It works by blocking enzymes required for controlling nervous system signals.
Humans exposed to even low doses may experience headaches, agitation, difficulty concentrating, nausea, diarrhea and blurred vision. High doses can cause respiratory paralysis and death.
And then of course there’s the health effects chlorpyrifos has on unborn children. Studies show low doses can interfere with nervous system development, placing children at a higher risk for complications.
Infants most at risk during third trimester
In addition to an increased risk for autism and development delays, infants born to mothers exposed to chlorpyrifos while pregnant suffered attention deficit disorder, low birth weights, reduced head circumference and other extensive and unusual birth defects, studies found.
This latest research learned that babies exposed to these chemicals “just before conception or during third trimester,” had a greater risk for autism and developmental delays. The risk for developmental delays was higher near carbamate applications, say scientists.
“Carbamate pesticides are derived from carbamic acid and kill insects in a similar fashion as organophosphate insecticides. They are widely used in homes, gardens, and agriculture,” say scientists.
“Like the organophosphates, their mode of action is inhibition of cholinesterase enzymes, affecting nerve impulse transmission.”
Other works by Julie Wilson
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