Autism and the Environment 101: Online Course 12

Pesticides, Herbicides and Fungicides
Pesticides are designed to kill pests (like insects), herbicides are designed to kill plants (like weeds), and fungicides are designed to kill molds. However, human beings share many biological features with other living things. It turns out that we, too, are vulnerable in many ways, depending on the particular pesticide, herbicide or fungicide. There are many kinds of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. They are found in our fruits and vegetables, in meats from animals that ate foods with these chemicals, in our homes and schools, and in our gardens.

Household Products
There are many household products with ingredients that are known to be toxic to the developing nervous system. From paints to carpet stain removers, these potent combinations that can make a brown wall white or overpower a stubborn stain also release into the air substances detrimental to brain and central nervous system health. Examples are toluene in spot removers and glycol monobutyl ether in window cleaners. Substances like formaldehyde, toxic as it seeps from new home materials like pressed wood floors and painted walls, become more dangerous in combination with ozone (from air pollution). Using these products in small or poorly ventilated spaces, or repeatedly, as would a professional cleaner, increases their danger.

There are a number of cosmetic ingredients that threaten the developing nervous system. Acetone in nail polish remover is a neurotoxic agent. BHA and BHT in lipstick is a suspected cause of metabolic stress, depressed growth, fetal abnormalities and neurotoxic effects such as hyperactivity and other behavioral disturbances. Lanolin (which comes from sheep) in moisturizers and baby creams has, in many cases, been contaminated by the process of sheep dipping to control pests and parasites. Diazonin, a neurotoxic pesticide, is prominent in many lanolin samples. Parabens in many skin-care products and cosmetics are associated with breast cancer. Pthalates in shampoos, moisturizers, sunscreens, baby products, soft plastics like shower curtains and plastic toys are associated with endocrine disruption, an interference with normal hormone processing. These are a few of the many exposures to be avoided by those seeking to protect and nurture brain and nervous system development. Unfortunately, at present there is little to no testing required for ingredients in cosmetics:

“The regulatory requirements governing the sale of cosmetics are not as stringent as those that apply to other FDA-regulated products… Manufacturers may use any ingredient or raw material, except for color additives and a few prohibited substances, to market a product without a government review or approval.” (from the FDA website, quoted on

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