Possible Link Between Autism and Pesticides

July 31, 2007

A new study conducted by California's Department of Public Health suggests that there may be a potential link between autism and pesticides.

Health officials say it could provide hope in unraveling the mystery behind the rising cases of autism. The California Department of Public Health found pregnant women who lived closest to fields where certain pesticides were used had a greater risk of having a child with the neurological disorder.

"Their likelihood of having a child with autism was six times what it would have been expected in the general population" said Dr. Mark Horton, California Department of Public Health.

Health officials caution though, they can't make a definite link between pesticides and autism because the study was too small. But they say, with an estimated 1 in 150 children diagnosed with autism, the possibility of a link is worth exploring.

"We are at a very early stage but once again, we have a substantive hypothesis on which to base further research" said Horton.

The pesticides in question are organochlorine pesticides. They are used to control mites particularly in cotton crops. Officials say their use has been dwindling in recent years. Some autism experts are taking note even though the research is preliminary.

"Every time we get a little bit more information, we're groping less in the dark and we're getting a little bit more light at the end of the tunnel" said Dr. Martha Herbert, Mass. General Hospital.

And some experts say the final answer may reveal that there is a combination of factors leading to autism. Many experts point to genetics and the environment as the possible culprits, and they say with so many parents desperate for answers, there is no stone worth leaving unturned.

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