Those who know me well will tell you that I am certainly NOT a person without opinions on policy or politics. Here I endeavor to stick with the facts of my specific expertise as a pediatrician and I want to continue that approach today. However, in this month’s medical journal BMJ a large, well designed study from the UCLA School of Public Health described troubling findings regarding pesticides and autism. Let’s discuss.
Covering 38,000 people and almost 3,000 autistic children, the study identified areas of greater risk–pregnant women living within 2 km(approximately 1 1/4 miles) of a “highly sprayed” area–10-16% more autism, and 30% more risk for autism AND intellectual impairment. Children living in that area for the first year of life had a 50% increased risk for those problems.
The study was thorough in its efforts to eliminate outside influences like pollution, family history, or demographics to confuse the conclusions; the authors pointed out that its data probably held up for children born or living an additional 500 meters(almost 3/4 mile) further out. It showed a slightly greater association for boys than girls, but that was mostly due to numbers of boys compared to girls and how that affected the math in the statistical calculations.
A wide variety of chemical agents were identified–organophosphates, diazinon, malathion, pyrenthroids, glyphosphates, avermectin, methyl bromides, and chlorpyrifos. The Trump Administration has been outspoken in opposing government regulations generally and has actively worked to liberalize the rules controlling the use of these products, most recently focusing on chlorpyrifos. It is their position that these rules create economic drag–raising prices to consumers and placing barriers to hiring and job creation. I will refrain from commenting on any of those claims.
But let’s be clear: this study demonstrates that there are serious consequences to innocent children from these chemicals, and the more and greater use, the more and greater risk. This study takes place in California, and we can try and look away–telling ourselves that this does not involve us or our families–but agriculture is a big part of the economy in the Garden State and Ocean County specifically, to say nothing that we and our children are all eating this stuff. So next time we hear talk of “big government,” “government over-reach,” “administrative red tape,’ or other such complaints of government regulations, please keep this study in mind. Overdoing it? At times, most likely. But often, there are good reasons for many of these rules, and often enforcing those rules mean protecting children’s lives or well being.
There are newer economic models estimating SOME of the costs of this diagnosis on our society. With that in mind, and if one adds in the heart ache to families and the tragedy of lives disrupted and dreams unrealized by autism, one must ask: is it worth it?
Send along questions and comments, and thanks for following.