Investigation: Indiana corn pesticides linked to autism - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Investigation: Indiana corn pesticides linked to autism

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Organic and non-GMO corn farmers still rely on insecticides like Lorsban and Counter in order to fight root worms Organic and non-GMO corn farmers still rely on insecticides like Lorsban and Counter in order to fight root worms
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.

What FOX28 did learn is that insecticide is used on 30 percent of Indiana's 5.7 million acres of corn. Lorsban was used on about half a million acres statewide in 2000, and Counter was used on nearly that many in 1999. We also know that 424 Elkhart farms, and 179 farms in St. Joseph County, used insecticides in 2012. Those numbers are based on voluntary surveys from the USDA and Census of Agriculture information. That's the only data available on pesticide use in Indiana.

Dr. Diehl says the study raised eyebrows in the autism  community, but believes more research needs to be done, before directly linking insecticides to behavioral disorders.

"I think it's important to remember that this is one study," said Dr. Diehl. "And it's a correlational study. And while the results are interesting, I think we need to be a little bit cautious. And it's something that we're going to have to do a lot  more research into."

Dr. Diehl said autism parent activist groups and grassroots efforts pressured California into monitoring pesticide use and funding more research. He believes Michiana citizens need to speak up and demand more from local and Indiana state government. 
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