Pregnant women who live near fields sprayed with pesticides can run more than three times the risk of having a child with autism, a study has found. It is feared that the crop chemicals stunt the development of the unborn child’s brain, setting it up for problems in years to come the DailyMail reports.
Campaigners say it is not surprising that powerful chemicals, which attack the brains and nerves of insects, also harm people because the two share many of the building blocks of life. Researcher Irva Hertz-Picciotto said, “If it were my family, I wouldn’t want to live close to where heavy pesticides are applied.”
The researchers, from the University of California, Davis, studied almost 1,000 mothers, overlaying their addresses on maps of pesticide use in the area. Those living within a mile of fields treated with common pesticides called organophosphates saw the odds of having an autistic child raised by around 60 per cent. Exposure in the last three months of pregnancy seemed to be even more damaging. These women were twice as likely to have an autistic child as others.
One particular pesticide, chlorpyrifos, more than trebled the odds, when a woman was exposed to it halfway through her pregnancy, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives reports. The researchers said exposure to pesticides in the womb might be particularly problematic because the unborn child’s brain may be especially vulnerable.
But others stressed that the study did not prove that pesticides cause autism. Dr Geoff Bird, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said, “It may be that parents of autistic children prefer to live in less densely populated places which just happen to be closer to farms which just happen to use pesticides.” The National Autistic Society also urged caution, saying that the development of autism is much more complicated than the researchers had suggested.
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