Does Pesticide Exposure During Pregnancy Cause Autism?


Does pesticide exposure during pregnancy cause autism? A new study about autism has just come out. Researchers at the University of California studied the proximity of pregnant women to areas where pesticides were used. Researchers found, that “Children of mothers who live near agricultural areas, or who are otherwise exposed to organophosphate, pyrethroid, or carbamate pesticides during gestation may be at increased risk for neurodevelopmental disorders.” The study states that one third of the mothers studied lived within 1.5km of a site where pesticides were sprayed, and their babies had a 60% increased risk of autism. Is this cause for alarm? Should women of childbearing age all move further away from agricultural areas?

Does Pesticide Exposure During Pregnancy Cause Autism?

If you read the media coverage of the study, it seems as if pesticide exposure most definitely causes autism. However, I always like to read beyond the headlines and get hold of the study itself, which often reveals a different story. This study is not restricted to a members only website – everyone can access the full PDF file of the study at the Environmental Health Perspectives website .

Surprising things that were NOT part of this new study:

  • Measurements of pesticides present in the air – neither in places where the mothers lived, nor places the spraying actually took place
  •  Measurements of pesticides present in the blood of the pregnant mothers involved in the study

That’s right, we don’t even know if these mothers were “exposed” to pesticides! The assumption was made that they were, since they lived in close proximity (ie 1.5 km away from where pesticides were sprayed). That begs the question, what did researchers study?

  • Looked at the address of where mothers lived during pregnancy from a pre-existing study, known as “CHARGE” of 907 children (486 with autism (ASD), 168 with developmental delays (DD), and 316 typical children)
  • Looked at commercial pesticide application data from the California Pesticide Use Report (1997-2008)
  • Measured how close the addresses of these mothers were to areas being commercially sprayed with pesticides

What does this tell us? Clearly, parents shouldn’t be concerned that pesticide exposure during pregnancy causes autism based on this one study! And perhaps more study should be done on this area of California, within two hours of Sacramento, to see what might be contributing to a perceived higher risk of autism.

What do you think? Could pesticide exposure during pregnancy cause autism? Let us know in the comments!

7 thoughts on “Does Pesticide Exposure During Pregnancy Cause Autism?”

  1. I really hope this isn’t the case and I can’t imagine I live near a highly pesticide sprayed area. My 4 year old son was diagnosed with ASD last year. I live in the City!

    1. We are all exposed to pesticides at some level. The question is, what levels are safe. Based on this research study alone, it’s unlikely pesticides is the cause of your child’s ASD, in my opinion.

  2. This is scary and I believe that it’s definitely possible. I wonder what a safe level of exposure is.

  3. I really think it is possible for exposure to pesticides could be dangerous for everyone’s help. I don’t think minimal exposure is going to cause any issues. If you are expecting, I wouldn’t mess with harmful chemicals including cleaning products for long periods of time. It would be much better for someone else takes over those duties during your pregnancy.

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