April is Autism Awareness Month, and there is growing evidence between the link of pesticides and autism. Autism affects 1 in 68 children in the United States, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a set of disorders in the brain functions that leads to by impaired social interaction, restricted communication and repetitive stereotypic behaviours.
It is generally believed that ASD arises from alterations to specific brain structures during critical windows of vulnerability during fetal development. These rates are so alarming that this would be described as a pandemic according to key researchers and public health experts.
Pesticides are now registered as leading causes of autism with both organophosphates (OPs) and organochlorides (OCs) listed in the top ten causes along with other heavy metals (Landrigan et al 2012). Even small amounts of pesticides can lead to a higher risk factor of developing ASD (Eskenazi et al ,2007)
In many parts of Asia children and school staff of child bearing age are exposed to pesticides to pesticides near schools, through their diet and their environments. In rural areas, poverty forces children work on farms and plantations. Children are,then, exposed to pesticide spray drifts from farms and also sprayed on aerially eg. Philippines.
In Various Parts of Asia, the Numbers Are Alarming
Prevalence is hard to establish and estimates have varied widely, although in 2006 they were reported to be around 0.6precent of the population; with one recent UK estimate of 1.1 percent. In 2012, the rate in the US was reported as 11 percent (Landrigan et al 2012). A survey of 7 to 12-year-old children in South Korea, the prevalence of ASD was found to be a surprisingly high 2.64 percent (Kim et al 2011). In Australia rate: 45 cases per 10,000 people; 7th highest in the world. Also, Japan is considered to have the highest autism rate in the world: 181.1 cases per 10,000 people.
The number of children diagnosed with ASD is trending upwards, now at 31 percent of NDIS participants which comprises the largest disability group in the scheme; according to the NDIS Quarterly Report in June 2015. There was considerable variation across age groups, with a marked drop-off after peaking in the 5-9-year-old age group. Also, Japan is considered to have the highest autism rate in the world: 181.1 cases per 10,000 people. A recent study has pegged the prevalence at 0.16 percent, previously it was reported around 0.04 percent and 0.05 percent.
Number of cases individuals of autism recorded by the Autism Society of America in 2007.
(Source: The Autism Society of America, 2007)
A growing number of epidemiological studies are the linking exposure to pesticide drifts to chronic conditions in children such as autism spectrum disorders (Roberts et al 2007).
Other studies have found: –
• Children are exposed to pesticides via spray drift are at a higher risk of developing ASD. An investigation of the influence of pesticide drift into homes near agricultural fields in the US found a strong association between ASD in children and their mothers residing near fields where endosulfan and/or dicofol were sprayed in the periods just before and during fetal development of the central nervous system (weeks 1-8). The risk of ASD increased with the quantity of pesticide used and proximity of home to the fields being treated. Children, whose mothers were living within 500 metres of these fields, had more than a 60precent increased risk of ASD (Roberts et al 2007).
• Children living in rural areas are further exposed to the impacts of pesticides. In 2015, a study in Malaysia found that children aged 10 to 11 years were exposed to pesticides like OPs and carbamates near rice paddy fields had poor motor skills, poor hand/eye coordination, attention speed and perceptual motor speed due to organophosphate and carbamate pesticide exposure. Children also had lower cholinesterase levels which is also indicator of pesticide poisoning.
What can you do to prevent Autism?
In developing Asian countries, such as Vietnam, India, Malaysia; many types of pesticides including brain harming pesticides like chlorpyrifos are readily available and still widely used. Brain harming organophosphate pesticides like chloropyrifos and monocrotophos, on the list of terrible twenty are still manufactured by DOW and is widely used around the world.
In Asia, awareness for ASD is increasing in many countries such as Malaysia, China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, etc. however this is not enough. Communities and concerned parents and teachers need to take concerted action to protect children from toxic pesticides by: –
• Limit and prevent exposure to pesticides by creating buffer zones around schools and consuming pesticides free food as much as possible
• Support agroecological measures, and the farmers that choose to farm without pesticides. This can include biological pest control, crop rotation, etc. This will ensure that no pesticide residue get on to the fruits and vegetables we eat.
• Also, call upon government officials to outright ban and phase out highly-hazardous pesticides usage in agricultural areas. We call upon you to sign this petition.
CAUSES OF AUTISM. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2016, from http://www.autism-help.org/autism-causes-detailed.htm
Dua, N. (2010, February 25). Pesticides pose health risks. Retrieved April 11, 2016, from http://www.irinnews.org/report/88234/asia-pesticides-pose-health-risks
FFTC Publication Database Food and Fertilizer Technology Center. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2016, from http://www.agnet.org/library.php?func=view
Levin ED, Timofeeva OA, Yang L, Petro A, Ryde IT, Wrench N, et al. 2009. Early postnatal parathion exposure in rats causes sex-selective cognitive impairment and neurotransmitter defects which emerge in aging. Behav Brain Res 208(2):319–327.
Moon, J., Chun, B., & Lee, S. (2015, February 23). Variable response of cholinesterase activities following human exposure to different types of organophosphates. Retrieved April 11, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25712411
Pesticides and health hazards Facts and figures [PDF]. (2012). Hamburg, Germany: PAN Germany.
Relate to Autism: Helping parents help children. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2016, from http://www.relatetoautism.com/index.php?subform=article
Shelton, J. F., Hertz-Picciotto, I., & Pessah, I. N. (2012, July 1). EHP – Tipping the Balance of Autism Risk: Potential Mechanisms Linking Pesticides and Autism. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1104553/#r75
Ting, T. X., Lee, L. W., Low, H. M., Kok, N. H., & Chee, A. K. (2014). Prevalence, diagnosis, treatment and research on autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in Singapore and Malaysia [PDF]. The International Journal of Special Education.
Watts, M. (2013). Poisining Our Future: Children And Pesticides [PDF]. Penang, Malaysia: Pesticide Action Network Asia & the Pacific.
Won, J. L., & Eun, S. C. (2009). J Rural Med 2009; 4 (2): 53ñ58 ©2009 The Japanese Association of Rural Medicine Review Overview of Pesticide Poisoning in South Korea [Scholarly project]. In The Berne Declaration. Retrieved April 11, 2016, from https://www.ladb.ch/fileadmin/files/documents/Syngenta/Paraquat/Overview_of_Pesticide_Poisoning_in_South_Korea.pdf
Z.A., Z. N., Hashim, Z., & D, B. (2015). Environmental Exposure of Organophosphate Pesticides Mixtures and Neurodevelopment of Primary School Children In Tanjung Karang, Malaysia [PDF]. University Putra Malaysia, Selangor, Malaysia: Asia Pacific Environmental and Occupational Health Journal.