Prenatal Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure and Traits Related to Autism Spectrum Disorders in a Population Living in Proximity to Agriculture

Environ Health Perspect. 2018 Apr 25;126(4):047012. doi: 10.1289/EHP2580.


Background: Prenatal exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides has been linked with poorer neurodevelopment and behaviors related to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in previous studies, including in the Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS) study, a birth cohort living in the agricultural Salinas Valley in California.

Objectives: To investigate the association of prenatal exposure to OP pesticides with traits related to ASD, in childhood and adolescents in CHAMACOS.

Methods: We assessed OP exposure during pregnancy with measurements of dialkyl phosphates (DAP) metabolites in urine, and residential proximity to OP use during pregnancy using California's Pesticide Use Reporting (PUR) data and estimated associations with ASD-related traits using linear regression models. We measured traits reported by parents and teachers as well as the child's performance on tests that evaluate the ability to use facial expressions to recognize the mental state of others at 7, 101/2, and 14 years of age.

Results: Prenatal DAPs were associated with poorer parent and teacher reported social behavior [e.g., a 10-fold DAP increase was associated with a 2.7-point increase (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.9, 4.5) in parent-reported Social Responsiveness Scale, Version 2, T-scores at age 14]. We did not find clear evidence of associations between residential proximity to OP use during pregnancy and ASD-related traits.

Conclusions: These findings contribute mixed evidence linking OP pesticide exposures with traits related to developmental disorders like ASD. Subtle pesticide-related effects on ASD-related traits among a population with ubiquitous exposure could result in a rise in cases of clinically diagnosed disorders like ASD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Agriculture
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / chemically induced
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / epidemiology*
  • California / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Organophosphates / adverse effects*
  • Organophosphates / urine
  • Pesticides / adverse effects*
  • Pesticides / urine
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology*


  • Organophosphates
  • Pesticides