Editor's Note -- This AOA article excerpted from 2014 looks at cases of anencephaly in Washington state and whether pesticides or some other environmental factor might be involved. An update from the Washington health department (consider the source) is here. With the Zika virus now in the news, we thought it was worth reminding readers that anencephaly has been on the radar before.
Trouble in Ecotopia
By Dan Olmsted
Today I'd like to mention further evidence that links pesticides with neurological and developmental mayhem, including but not limited to autism, especially along the "left coast" of the United States, stretching from the San Joaquin and Central Valleys of California up through Napa and the orchard and wine counties of Washington State. This temperate and fertile arc, sometimes referred to as Ecotopia, began blooming with fruits and vegetables when industrial agriculture, pesticides and irrigation started taking hold at the end of the 19th Century. It now accounts for a large percentage of the nation's food supply -- and increasingly, a number of unusual outbreaks that point to toxins.
In our AOA series in 2011, The Age of Polio -- How an Old Virus and New Toxins Triggered a Man-made Epidemic, we demonstrated how the first use of pesticides containing lead and arsenic in the late 19th century triggered the first outbreaks of poliomyelitis. The polio virus up till then had been a benign stomach bug, or enterovirus, but we proposed that the ingestion of lead and arsenic in children with an active polio infection allowed the virus to gain access to the nervous system, where it killed cells at the top of the spinal column (the anterior horn), leading to temporary or permanent paraylsis and, sometimes, death. Early epidemics in the San Joaquin and Napa regions as well as orchard country in Washington State are the kind of associations, overlooked at the time and ever since, that point to the true, manmade nature of polio epidemics.
Earlier this year Mark and I tracked a new outbreak, of two dozen or so cases of partial paralysis in California children, and suggested pesticides could have played a role there. Medical experts suspect an enterovirus, interestingly. We suspect that whatever else was going on, pesticides probably played a role. We reported that the parents of one child owned a vineyard (reminiscent of that Napa polio outbreak more than a century ago), and had also remembered their daughter ate fresh raspberries the morning she got sick. The doctors, she told us, didn't seem interested. (The child also got an IV at the hospital right before her arm suddenly, and permanently, went limp, possibly suggesting provocation polio, in which a needle stick can create an opening for an enterovirus to reach the nervous system). A second child who has been identified lives in an LA exurb built on farmland so intensively farmed it has an apricot named for it. (Moorpark.)
Lately, the arc of mayhem has been migrating further north, where another "mystery outbreak" has baffled researchers. According to NBC, "Mysterious Birth Defects: No Answers, Only Questions, Experts Say":
"Since 2010, at least 30 babies — now 31 — have been diagnosed with anencephaly in a three-county area of central Washington state that includes Yakima and Sunnyside. ... That’s a rate of 8.7 per 10,000 births in the region, far higher than the national rate of 2.1 cases for 10,000 births."
Among the possibilities are a nearby nuclear plant and "pesticides, grain molds, nitrates in water supplies and other concerns previously tied to the problem. ... One factor that’s certain to get attention is the low rate of folic acid use in the region. Low levels of the B vitamin in early pregnancy are known to increase risk of anencephaly, spina bifida and other neural tube defects. Sixty percent of women in the three-county area don’t take folic acid as recommended — a figure that climbed to 80 percent to 90 percent in those whose babies were studied."
Seriously, not enough folic acid? My money is on toxins, particularly pesticides. Another recent article pointed to illnesses caused by a phenomenon known as pesticide drift in the same areas. According to oregonlive.com in May:
"OLYMPIA, Wash. — A sudden rise in pesticide drift incidents in Eastern Washington orchards has sickened 60 people since March — a typical number for a full year, the Washington State Department of Health said Monday."
Back when polio was the threat, and horses grazed in Yakima orchards treated with lead arsenate, they would get a paralytic condition called orchard disease. And some researchers noted that when polio epidemics broke out, farm animals -- chickens, pigs, horses, even dogs -- would develop the same symptoms. The dots lay unconnected, and real people still pay the price. Now when we hear about such events in Yakima, we blame mothers for not taking enough supplements; when we hear about students developing tic disorders in New York State, no one notices the crop dusting plane buzzing right next to the school (a story we first reported) or the fact that most of these classroom clusters occur in rural districts during planting or harvesting season; instead they blame young women for developing "hysteria," one of the oldest, stupidest and most sexist tricks in the orthodox psychiatric playbook.
So, yes, pesticides cause paralysis, neurological disorders, birth defects, poliomyelitis, ADHD, the first cases of autism ...
This all comes full circle when we consider the new study that in effect connects pesticide drift in California farm fields is associated with autism. CBS: "Pregnant women who live within a mile of spaces where commercial pesticides are applied appear to have an increased risk of having a child with autism, a new study suggests.
"The risk that a child would develop autism appeared to be highest for women who lived near farms, golf courses and other public spaces that were treated with pesticides during the last three months of their pregnancies."
As our Anne Dachel has pointed out, the vaccine deniers at Forbes and Salon are pouring gallons of undiluted Roundup all over this story, because they know where it is going -- straight back to the idea that autism is not genetic in origin, it's toxic. Anything that points to a clear-cut toxin, not just vague "environmental factors" interacting with a gazillion mutant genes is, so to speak, toxic.
That's why pesticides matter to those of us who actually believe vaccines are the main driver of the autism epidemic. They point to its man-made and modern origins; they point to ethylmercury as the trigger; they single out pesticides and vaccines as the primary vectors; and they show how dangerous, foolhardy and ultimately criminal it is to keep putting ethylmercury in vaccines for babies and pregnant woman.
And that's why trouble in Ecotopia is such as import clue not just to the beginning, but also to ending, the age of autism.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.