ELKHART -A recent UC Davis study found pregnant women living within a mile of fields were pesticides were sprayed were 60 percent likelier to have a child with autism. Since that study was published, director of Notre Dame autism research lab and associate editor of Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Dr. Joshua Diehl, says he’s been bombarded with e-mails and calls from concerned parents and researchers.
“It’s caused quite a stir,” said Dr. Diehl. “I think a lot of people are really nervous – especially those who live near agricultural sites.”
The study found that a family of pesticides, known as organophosphates, caused the highest levels of autism births. The U.S. military used organophosphates as nerve agents in World War II.
Two pesticides in particular, Lorsban and Counter, became especially popular among Indiana corn farmers in the 70s and 80s, because they destroyed the nervous systems of root worms. The problem: the insecticides have the same effect on humans.
“I guess the good thing is that the products that are out there that they’re worried about,” said Elkhart County Extension Educator Jeff Burbrink. “The organophosphates, are sort of falling out of favor.”
Burbrink says most corn farmers have switched to genetically modified corn. GMOs don’t need Lorsban and Counter, because they’re designed with a protein that makes them root worm resistant.
But organic corn farmers still rely on Lorsban and Counter.
FOX28 tried to find out exactly how many farms in Elkhart and St. Joseph County use Lorsban and Counter, but couldn’t. That’s because the agency charged with regulating pesticides, the Indiana State Chemist, doesn’t keep track of which farms use which pesticides.