Children in regions of aerial pyrethroid pesticide (PP) spraying may be at greater risk of being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or developmental delays (DD) than children in areas where different methods of pesticide distribution take place, according to new research.

Researchers reviewed tertiary referral center records of 24 zip codes within central New York, from March, 2010 to March, 2015, to identify ASD and DD cases at six pediatric clinics. Data from the Department of Environmental Conservation was analyzed for volume of yearly aerial pyrethroid pesticide spraying in the eight zip codes where aerial distribution took place. In addition to health records, the findings were compared with the 16 control zip codes. 

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The researchers found that ASD and DD prevalence correlated with aerial PP exposure (r=0.58) and total pesticide coverage (r=0.41), and that those in aerial-exposed zip codes had higher overall levels of exposure (P=0.047). This factored in the relative risk of ASD/DD for children in aerial spraying zip codes to be 1.25 (95% CI = 1.025-1.506).

Pyrethroid pesticides target mosquitos that carry eastern equine encephalitis, which can cause swelling of the brain and spinal cord. Commenting on possible implications of the study’s findings, lead investigator Steven Hicks said, “Communities that have pesticide programs to help control the mosquito population might consider ways to reduce child pesticide exposure, including alternative application method.”

The research was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting, in Baltimore, MD.

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