Dossier: Autisme et pollution

Salon. Early exposure to toxins may help explain the increasing percentage of kids diagnosed with autism

Statistics released earlier this spring by the Centers for Disease Control revealed that one in 88 U.S.-born toddlers has an autism spectral disorder — from the less severe Asperger’s syndrome to the so-called classical form of the ailment. Worse, it’s not just a North American phenomenon; Belli also reports a 57 percent spike in Asia and Europe.

The question is why. Perhaps, some posit, medical professionals have simply become better diagnosticians, and people previously labeled eccentric or developmentally disabled were in fact, autistic. Or, perhaps there’s a genetic culprit since ASD typically runs in families. Belli gives credence to both theories, but ultimately concludes that there is more to the puzzle. “If the rise in autism numbers were only due to improved diagnosis and awareness of autism among the medical community — or if the roots of the epidemic were primarily genetic — professionals would have seen an increase in adult or adolescent patients who had not been diagnosed or who had been misdiagnosed in the past,” she writes.

But they haven’t. This realization piqued Belli’s curiosity, and her investigation into the relationship between environmental poisons and human health is riveting. “The idea that a toxin can cause autism is neither controversial nor speculative,” she begins. In fact, thalidomide, a medication used in the 1960s to control morning sickness in pregnant women, was tied to autism almost 20 years ago. Likewise valproic acid, used to treat bipolar disorder; misoprostol, an ulcer drug; and chlorpyrifos, an insecticide.

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