Increased food production in the U.S. often depends on the use of toxic agricultural pesticides, including chlorpyrifos, which a 2014 CHARGE study has linked to drastically increased risks of autism during prenatal development.
Chlorpyrifos is a widely-used pesticide that was introduced to the market in 1965. Today, approximately 44,000 American farms collectively use between 6 and 10 million pounds of chlorpyrifos every year. Farmers are partial to chlorpyrifos as it is effective in killing 400 different insect species, leading to its use on corn, soybeans, asparagus, peaches, apples, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, walnuts, and cranberries, among many other foodstuffs. As a result, as noted by The Intercept, “chlorpyrifos makes its way into the vast majority of American kitchens.”
The 2014 CHARGE study researched the link between fetal exposure to chlorpyrifos and social, intellectual and behavioral developmental delays. It found that children of mothers who lived near agricultural areas faced an increased risk of subtle and long-lasting neurodevelopment disorders and impairments like ADHD, intelligence deficits, and other learning difficulties. While there are higher rates of exposure for those who live near farms, many toxic pesticides are still present in common household products.
Out of all the different pesticides, the association between autism and chlorpyrifos is the strongest. Women who lived near agricultural fields where chlorpyrifos was sprayed during the second trimester of pregnancy three times higher chance of having an autistic child. According to David Bellinger, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, the exposure to organophosphate pesticides, including chlorpyrifos, may “cost American children almost 17 million IQ points.”
Numerous efforts towards getting an EPA ban on chlorpyrifos pesticides are ongoing.