Aerial pesticide exposure increases the risk of developmental delay and Autism spectrum disorder


Pesticides are one environmental factor implicated in developmental delay (DD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The influence of the timing and route of pesticide exposure on the risk of ASD/DD is not well defined.

OBJECTIVE: We identified an area of Central New York (NY) with unique pyrethroid pesticide (PP) exposure to study these factors. Each summer, to combat mosquito-borne encephalitis in the Cicero Swamp region, the Department of Health uses airplanes to apply PPs. In contrast, surrounding areas are exposed to standard methods of pesticide application, such as controlled droplet application, by commercial applicators. The objective of this study was to determine if the amount, route or gestational timing of pesticide exposure influenced the risk of ASD/DD.

DESIGN/METHODS: A retrospective review of records from a tertiary referral center was used to estimate the number of children with ASD/DD from 24 zip codes within Central NY from March, 2010 to March, 2015. Cases were identified using ICD-9 codes for ASD or DD at 6 affiliated pediatric clinics. To control for referral bias, rates of 4 common diagnoses were calculated for each zip code. Publicly available mandated reporting data from the Department of Environmental Conservation were used to quantify pesticide exposure (kg) among zip codes. The 2013 American Community Survey was used to quantify demographic data. Data from the 8 zip codes exposed to yearly aerial PPs were compared with 16 control zip codes.

RESULTS: There was no significant difference between aerial-exposed and control groups in number of children, overall births, premature births, poverty level, or child sex. The referral rate from aerial-exposed zip codes was lower for all 4 control diagnoses. The aerial-exposed zip codes had higher levels of total pesticide exposure (p = 0.047), but no difference in pesticide use per square km (p = 0.10). The relative risk of ASD/DD for children in zip codes with aerial spraying was 1.25 (95% CI = 1.025-1.506). ASD/DD prevalence correlated with aerial PP exposure (r = 0.58) and total pesticide exposure (r = 0.41). There was no correlation between gestational age during aerial spraying and ASD/DD prevalence (r = -0.034).

CONCLUSIONS: Exposure to pesticides is correlated with increased risk of ASD/DD. The relative risk of ASD/DD increases when PP exposure occurs through aerial application, but the gestational timing of this exposure does not influence ASD/DD risk."

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