Could air pollution and the development of autism in children be linked? Harvard School of Public Health and others think they may be.
“Pregnant women exposed to high levels of air pollution are twice as likely to have a child with autism compared to women exposed to low levels, scientists from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) reported in Environmental Health Perspectives (June 18th edition).”
The authors of the study claim that their study is the first large nationwide one of its kind to examine associations between air pollution and the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) rates throughout the United States. “Lead author Andrea Roberts, a research associate in the HSPH Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said: “Our findings raise concerns since, depending on the pollutant, 20% to 60% of the women in our study lived in areas where risk of autism was elevated.”
Previous studies show that lead, mercury, diesel and other particulates found in polluted air can affect both the physical and neurological development of the fetus and baby. There are two studies that have already shown that there is a link between air pollution exposure during pregnancy and ASD risk. On the flip-side however, they only examined three locations in the country.
Roberts and her colleagues examined data from the Nurses’ Health Study II which began in 1989 and included details on 116,430 nurses. They focused on data on 325 women who gave birth to a child who was eventually diagnosed with autism and 22,000 others whose children did not have the disorder.
“The team analyzed environmental data from the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) to estimate how much air pollution the mothers were exposed to while pregnant. They also factored in some possible confounders, such as smoking during pregnancy, education and income. The main aim was to look at links between autism spectrum disorders and pollution levels at the time and place of birth.”
There was a closer association between autism risk during pregnancy and pollution levels if the mother was carrying a boy, the researchers also added. However, whether girls are less affected by air pollution should be examined further because there were many more boys with autism in the study than girls, i.e. there were not enough girls with an ASD in the study.
Besides this, Researchers from the University of Southern California and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles published a report in Archives of General Psychiatry. The report stated that exposure to air pollution during a child’s first 12 months of life may increase autism risk.
In another study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, scientists found that children living near a freeway had twice the risk of autism compared to other children.
This stifling disease is increasing the number of its victims because of pollutants that can be done away with. This should motivate those in control to find a way to lower the incredible amount of pollution in our atmosphere. Until this issue is further resolved however, interventions should be developed to reduce pregnant women’s exposure to these pollutants.
Source: Medical News Today