Without a doubt, autism is receiving more and more scientific and popular attention as we move further into the 21st century. A new study has added to our knowledgebase by showing that various sources of air pollution are associated with autism.
The study, published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry and headed by Heather Volk, Ph.D., assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine and investigator in the Division of Research on Children, Youth and Families at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, demonstrates for the first time that exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy and during the first year of life is associated with a more than two-fold risk of autism.
Additionally, exposure to regional pollution consisting of nitrogen dioxide and small particles is also associated with autism, even if the mother lives nowhere near a busy road.
“This work has broad potential public health implications,” said Volk. “We’ve known for a long time that air pollution is bad for our lungs, and especially for children. We’re now beginning to understand how air pollution may affect the brain.”
Volk’s research is the first to look at the amount of near-roadway traffic-pollution that individuals have been exposed to and combine that statistic with the measure of regional air quality. Volk notes that the research builds upon previous work she and colleagues conducted, looking at how close subjects lived to a freeway.
“We took into account how far away people lived from roads, meteorology such as which way the wind was blowing, how busy the road was, and other factors to study traffic-related pollution,” she said. “We also examined data from air quality monitors, which measure pollution over a larger region that could come from traffic, industry, rail yards, or many other sources.”
The study looked at data on 279 autism cases and 245 control subjects enrolled in the California-based Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study. Based on the addresses of mothers, the researchers estimated exposure during each trimester of pregnancy and the first year of life.
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