November 27, 2012

Study links autism with pollution from autos

Children from homes exposed to high levels of exhaust were three times more likely to be autistic.

Elizabeth Lopatto / Bloomberg News

Exposure to air pollution from cars and trucks during pregnancy and a baby's first year may be associated with an increased risk of autism, a study found.

The study, published Monday in the Archives of General Psychiatry, compared 279 autistic children with 245 children who didn't have the social and communication disorder.

Researchers said the children who lived in homes with the highest estimated levels of air pollution from traffic were three times more likely to be autistic than those with the lowest predicted exposure.

The cause of autism is unknown, though genetic factors are probably important, according to the National Institutes of Health. Among other environmental causes that have been suspected are diet, digestive tract changes, mercury poisoning and vaccine sensitivity.

"The public health implications of these findings are large because air pollution exposure is common and may have lasting neurological effects," the authors, led by Heather Volk, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, wrote in their study.

The increased risk from air pollution generated by car and truck traffic may be due to exhaust particles, though the study didn't measure the particulate matter at any of the homes of the children analyzed. Instead, researchers modeled what they expected the air pollution was, based on the mother's address.

Additionally, the research didn't explore sources of indoor pollution, such as second-hand smoke.

Pollution from small particles is known to cause heart attacks, early death, decreased lung function and asthma, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The particles, which come from coal plants, car exhaust, fireplaces, furnaces and other sources, are common in urban areas.

Decreasing pollution by about 7 micrograms per cubic meter may lead to a five-month increase in life expectancy, previous research suggested. More study is needed to know how air pollution interacts with autism, the study authors said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in March that 1 in 88 children in the United States had autism or a related disorder in 2008. That was a 23 percent rise from 2006, the agency's researchers reported, saying it was unclear how much of the increase was due to greater awareness.

 

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)