'Insecticide DDT may increase autism risk in babies'

Autism Risk May Increase If Child's Mother Has High DDT Exposure

Autism Risk May Increase If Child's Mother Has High DDT Exposure

Women who have high levels of a marker for a long-discontinued pesticide in their blood seem to have an increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to researchers from Columbia University Medical Center.

The researchers also examined the levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which are chemicals used in industrial application, but found no association between the chemicals and autism in children.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social skills and nonverbal communication and also can cause repetitive behaviors.

"We think of these chemicals in the past tense, relegated to a long-gone era of unsafe 20th Century toxins", says lead author Alan S. Brown, MD, MPH, professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center.

To do the study, Brown partnered with researchers in Finland, a country with a universal health care system that tracks diagnoses, such as autism, in all people living there.

Researchers identified 778 cases of childhood autism among offspring born from 1987 to 2005 to women enrolled in the Finnish Maternity Cohort, representing 98 percent of pregnant women in Finland.

DDT exposure is seen to be largely responsible for premature births and lower birth rates among infants, which are known risk factors of autism condition.

The researchers stress that while a relationship between pesticide level and children with autism has been identified, it is now simply a correlation.

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"In addition, the odds of children having autism with intellectual disability were increased more than twofold with maternal DDE levels above this threshold", notes a statement from the American Psychiatric Association. They measured the levels of DDE and DDT in blood serum samples taken from the mothers during early pregnancy.

PCBs and DDT have both been banned for more than 30 years in many countries, including the United States and Finland. "Unfortunately, they are still present in the environment and are in our blood and tissues".

A waterway in Brisbane, Australia, is doused with DDT to kill mosquitos in 1949. "Then, it got into the soil and groundwater".

Virtually everybody has some level of DDT and PCBs in their body. It's an important question, he says, given how much DDT persists in the environment, even in places that have banned its use. These chemicals are transferred across the placenta in concentrations greater than those seen in the mother's blood.

Brown urges women who are pregnant or planning on it to consume organic produce, as well as wash fruits and vegetables to rinse off toxic residues, but "I wouldn't say it's cause for alarm", he told Live Science.

"If a pregnant mother is exposed to this chemical, her unborn baby's brain might develop differently and in such a way that it might increase the risk of maybe later getting autism", Dr.

As mentioned, DDE may just be one piece of the puzzle for explaining what causes autism.

Scientific evidence has implicated a range of environmental and genetic factors in the risk of a child developing autism.

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