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Sharon Lerner | The Intercept January 15, 2017

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ON MONDAYS, MAGDA and Amilcar Galindo take their daughter Eva to self-defense class. Eva is 12 but her trusting smile and arching pigtails make her look younger. Diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, Eva doesn’t learn or behave like the typical 12-year-old. She struggles to make change, and she needs help with reading and social situations. Eva’s classmates are sometimes unkind to her, and Magda worries for her daughter’s feelings and her safety. So once a week, after they drive her from her middle school in Modesto, California, to her tutor in nearby Riverbank, the Galindos rush off to the gym where they cheer Eva on as she wrestles with a heavy bag and punches the air with her skinny arms.

The Galindos wish they could have protected their daughter from whatever originally caused her troubles, which began in infancy, when she screamed incessantly. As she got older, Eva was slow to talk and make friends. Nine years ago, when her pediatrician diagnosed her with autism, he told the Galindos that nobody really knew why children developed such problems. And in some ways, that is still true; both the causes of these neurodevelopmental conditions and their increase among American children remain mysterious.

But a study the family participated in when Eva was 3 has pointed to one possible culprit: chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide that was sprayed near their home when Magda was pregnant. At the time, the family was living in Salida, a small town in central California surrounded by fields of almonds, corn, and peaches. The Galindos could see the planted fields just down the street from their stucco house. And Magda could smell them from the patio where she spent much of her pregnancy. Sometimes the distinct essence of cow manure filled the air. At other times she sniffed the must of fertilizer. And there was a third odor, too — “the smell of the chemical,” said Galindo. “You can tell, it’s different from mulch and manure. When they sprayed, the smell was different.”

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