The body of evidence linking autism to environmental causes continues to grow with the release this month of a new study showing increased rates of autism are associated with the exposure of pregnant mothers to the long-banned pesticide DDT. This study and many others are strong indicators that “autism” is the result of environmental exposures, yet the vast majority of research effort into the causes of autism is still focused on dead-end genetic studies. The Combating Autism Act/Autism CARES Act is up for reauthorization by Congress in 2019. We are only spending about $200 million per year on autism research (which is about the budget of a midsized school district) and much of that is misdirected.
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Association of Maternal Insecticide Levels with Autism in Offspring from a National Birth Cohort, https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2018... looked at pregnant mothers and their children in Finland who were exposed to DDT or PCBs, a now banned carcinogenic industrial chemical. No significant correlation was found with PCBs. The study does not conclusively prove that DDT causes autism, but it joins a growing body of evidence linking multiple environmental exposures during pregnancy, especially biocides, to elevated rates of autism.
- In 2012 a study from California’s MIND Institute associated increased autism rates to exposure of pregnant mothers to agricultural pesticides.
- In 2016 a study associated increased autism rates to exposure pf pregnant mothers to pesticides sprayed for mosquito control in New York.
- Multiple studies have associated the ubiquitous herbicide glyphosate (Monsanto’s Round Up ®) with elevated autism rates.
DDT was used extensively for decades beginning in the 1930s to control insects, especially mosquitoes, that spread disease like malaria, dengue fever and typhus. It was such an effective insecticide that the investigator who discovered these properties won a Nobel Prize in 1948. The publication in 1962, however, of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring,that connected the use of DDT to environmental damage, especially the decimation of predator bird populations, led eventually to the banning of DDT in the US in 1972 and later in much of the world. DDT is a stable molecule and persists in the environment. DDT is lipophilic, it bonds to fat molecules, and the human brain is mostly fat. It shouldn’t come as completely surprising that substances introduced into the environment to kill living things, frequently by interfering with animals’ nervous systems, could have potential serious consequences for some humans.
When the Combating Autism Act/Autism CARES Act is re-authorized there needs to be a substantial increase in the resources devoted to autism which is now the leading disabling disease of American children. And the focus needs to be on the environmental exposures which are causing autism, not another decade of genetic studies.
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