The Bugman: New Research Links Pesticide Exposure To Autism

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New Research Links Pesticide Exposure to Autism
FLIT Spray Can ( Bullenwächter/Hamburg Museum )
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Important research published last month in peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives supports the theory that children whose mothers are exposed to agricultural pesticides during pregnancy may be at increased risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Researchers at the University of California, Davis examined the medical records of 970 participants and published the results in “
Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Prenatal Residential Proximity to Agricultural Pesticides: The CHARGE Study.” They found that pregnant women who lived within one mile of an area treated with three different types of pesticides were at a two-thirds higher risk of having a child with ASD or developmental delays. These pesticide-treated areas included parks, golf courses, pastures and roadsides.

The study investigated the use of three classes of pesticides: organophosphates, which include the widely used insecticide chlorpyrifos; pyrethroids, which are commonly used in and around homes; and carbamates, such as Sevin. The results further indicate that women who are exposed to pesticides during their second or third trimesters were even more likely to have a child born with developmental delays or autism.

Until further research determines whether the use of such pesticides inside a home or business poses similar risks, these scientists suggest that pregnant women limit their exposure to pesticides as much as possible. If you are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, you should avoid all exposure to pesticides inside and outside your home. When someone—whether it’s a landlord, independent contractor or overzealous, bug-phobic partner—wants to spray your home, make sure you read the label. And make sure that these chemicals aren’t being used. These findings add to mounting evidence linking autism and developmental delays to pesticide exposure during pregnancy.

These study results confirm that these three classes of pesticides used in mosquito spraying can be dangerous to pregnant women and their children. The four most common pesticides used in mosquito control are Scourge, Anvil and Permethrin, which are pyrethroid (synthetic) insecticides, and Malathion which is an organophosphate insecticide. They are all in the three classes of pesticides that can cause autism in children. If Albuquerque uses a pesticide in any of these three classes, they should ask all pregnant women to leave the area for a few days to avoid contamination and possible health problems for their unborn child.

Many cities and towns spray for mosquitoes, including Albuquerque. In this writer’s opinion, the City should advise all pregnant women of the potential dangers. Further, cities shouldn’t be spraying for mosquitoes anyway. It should be up to homeowners to keep standing water off their property and to wear good, non-DEET insect repellents when they go outside. Spraying for mosquitoes also kills beneficial insects such as bees, kills any birds in their nests that can’t get away and endangers any animals (whether wild or domestic) that are outside during the spraying. Albuquerque residents who don’t want their property sprayed can register for the City’s no-spray list by calling 311.

It hasn’t yet been proven that the pesticides used in homes are dangerous to pregnant women, but do you really want to take that chance? We must assume that any pesticides found to be hazardous to people in other applications are also hazardous when used in and around your home. Ask your pest control operator not to use synthetic pyrethroids in your home. There are other less toxic products they can use. In reality there are no pests in this country that require the use of pesticide sprays to control. Any pest can be controlled successfully using less toxic methods if you know the identity of the pest and its feeding and breeding habits.

Any responsible pest control company that uses synthetic pyrethroids in commercial establishments should post pesticide notification at least 24 hours prior to their application, so pregnant women can avoid the business for a few days. All business owners should also insist on such notification for the safety of their customers and employees. Synthetic pyrethroids should never be used in schools or day care centers, and certainly not in medical facilities.

If you have any pest questions, contact the Bugman via email at If you want to join his Bug Club and learn about non-toxic pest management, visit

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