Autism’s cause is unknown and there is no cure, but a new report suggests exposure to pesticides during pregnancy could be a factor.
University of California Davis Professor Irva Hertz-Picciotto found a correlation between proximity to pesticides during pregnancy and an increased risk of autism in children in the study, CBS reports.
Pesticides kill insects by destroying their nervous systems, Hertz-Picciottos explained to CBS. They generally don’t pose a risk to adults, since their brains have developed appropriate barriers, but children don’t have these filters and are more susceptible to neuron damage.
The rate of Autism diagnosis is continuously rising in the United States, with 1 in 68 children currently diagnosed with Autism — a 30 percent increase from 2012, according to the CDC.
Nearly 1,000 families with children aged two to five were surveyed for the study. Of those surveyed, 486 were diagnosed with autism, 168 had some other sort of developmental issue, and the rest were developing normally.
The researchers used pesticide application data and compared it to the locations of these families. Mothers who lived within one mile of pesticide exposure had a 60 to 200 percent higher risk of having a child diagnosed with autism. And mothers exposed to pesticides during the third trimester were most susceptible to an increased risk of having a child with autism.
Critics of the study point out researchers could not collect blood and urine samples to measure pesticide levels in the blood, and did not establish a direct link between pesticide exposure and autism, only a correlation.
“I would suspect that there’s a number of different factors at play that have to do with maternal health, maternal nutrition, as well as chemicals that are used around the home as well as other factors like air pollution,” Philippe Grandjean, an adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Mass. said. ”It’s going to be an accumulation of factors for any one woman.”