Skip to page navigation menu Skip entire header
Brown University
Skip 13 subheader links

Association between prenatal organophosphate pesticide exposure and autistic-behaviors in children


In this research project, I further examine the previously observed associations between organophosphate pesticide exposure in pregnant women and behavioral development in their children. While organophosphate pesticides (OP pesticides) may not be fatal to humans at low doses, they may disrupt the proper functioning of the nervous system, particularly in the developing fetus because this is a time of rapid, irreversible, and time-dependent neural development. Since OP pesticides can pass through the placenta, they have the potential to cause adverse effects on a fetus\u2019s developing brain. With Dr. Joseph Braun, I used rigorous statistical techniques to determine to what extent urinary OP metabolite concentrations in mothers during pregnancy correlate with reciprocal social and autistic behaviors in children. I used data from 240 mothers and their children in the Health Outcomes and Measures of the Environment (HOME) study, a prospective cohort in Cincinnati, Ohio. I used the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) questionnaire as a quantitative measure of reciprocal social behavior and autistic traits in children at ~8 years of age, and I then compared scores on this instrument with urine levels of OP pesticide metabolites. Using a number of statistical methods and the computing package SAS Studio, I was able to examine the magnitude and precision of the association between prenatal pesticide exposure and children's behavior. The significance of this project in the realms of public health and environmental exposure research is far-reaching. Up to a billion pounds of OP pesticides are used in the United States each year. As disturbing as the concept of environmental chemicals affecting the development of children's brain may be, it is important to realize that the presence of pesticides in our environment can be reduced or eliminated by behavioral changes, the advent of new technological developments, and regulatory interventions. If studies like this one show a convincing link between high exposure levels and autistic behaviors, they can promote widespread awareness of this concerning issue and prompt the passing of legislation to protect the health of developing children in the U.S. and abroad.


Millenson, Marisa, "Association between prenatal organophosphate pesticide exposure and autistic-behaviors in children" (2015). Summer Research Symposium. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.



  • Summer Research Symposium

    Each year, Brown University showcases the research of its undergraduates at the Summer Research Symposium. More than half of the student-researchers are UTRA recipients, while others receive funding from a variety of Brown-administered and national programs and fellowships and go …