That would have been my headline! It was a study of 29 women, and the results show a six-fold increase in the incidence of autism in children whose mothers were close to fields being sprayed with organochlorine pesticides. A factor of 6 is a big number, which is why they found statistical significance at such a low sample size.
Most organochlorine pesticides (the most famous being DDT) are already banned in the first world. The ones suspected here, endosulfan and dicofol are banned in quite a few countries including Belize, Singapore. Cambodia and Germany. The Stockholm convention (international treaty to identify and restrict the use of persistent organic pollutants) has identified endosulfan as a possible addition to its list of POPs.
Of course, the US has not even ratified the Stockholm convention thanks to the pesticide lobbies. So, nothing the Stockholm convention decides about endosulfan will carry any legal weight. In this country, pesticides and most other chemicals in current use are “innocent until proven guilty”, meaning harm must be conclusively proven in a manner that will withstand court challenge. With industry sponsored research and lobbying, such a burden of proof is often insurmountable and therefore, hazardous pollutants are used in the US well beyond their sell-by dates.
Women who live near California farm fields sprayed with organochlorine pesticides may be more likely to give birth to children with autism, according to a study by state health officials to be published today. The rate of autism among the children of 29 women who lived near the fields was extremely high, suggesting that exposure to the insecticides in the womb might have played a role. The study is the first to report a link between pesticides and the neurological disorder, which affects one in every 150 children. But the state scientists cautioned that their finding is highly preliminary because of the small number of women and children involved and lack of evidence from other studies.
Clearly, the increase in autism incidence has many more factors linked to it than environmental chemical exposure, but this is interesting and good work. This study will doubtless be severely criticized by the pesticide lobby. After all, it’s only a correlation, no mechanism has been proposed, and the sample size is very small. But, as I mentioned before, you don’t normally see six-fold increases in disease incidences with ambient environmental exposure, so there is definitely something going on here.