Autism and Air Pollution: The Link Grows Stronger


Autism and Air Pollution: The Link Grows StrongerChildren with autism are two to three times more likely than other children to have been exposed to car exhaust, smog, and other air pollutants during their earliest days, according to a new study.

That new research adds to a mounting body of evidence that shows a link between early-life exposure to pollution and autism spectrum disorders.

For the new study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers in California analyzed some 500 children living in that state: roughly half had autism and half did not. The kids’ mothers gave an address for each and every home in which they had lived during pregnancy and the child’s first year of life. Researchers took that information — along with data on traffic volume, vehicle emissions, wind patterns, and regional estimates of pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, and ozone — to estimate each child’s likely pollution exposure. According to the study, children in the top 25% of pollution exposure (using one of two different pollution scales) were far more likely to be diagnosed with autism than kids in the bottom 25% of the pollution scale.

The researchers stress, however, that their study does not definitively prove that pollution is the root cause of autism.

“We’re not saying that air pollution causes autism. We’re saying it may be a risk factor for autism,” says Heather Volk, lead author on the new study and an assistant professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California. “Autism is a complex disorder and it’s likely there are many factors contributing,” she says.

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