Is There a Correlation Between Autism and Air Pollution?

Research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh revealed that there may be a link between children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the mother’s exposure to air pollution during pregnancy. More specifically, children with ASD were 1.4 to two times more likely to have been exposed to higher air pollution that children without the disorder.

In order to achieve these results, scientists interviewed 217 families of children with ASD and families with children without this disorder between 2005 and 2009 in several Pennsylvania counties. The team then estimated exposure to 30 different pollutants that is linked with neurodevelopmental issues. After adjusting for other factors such as the mother’s race, smoking habits and other factors, scientists concluded that pollutant exposure of children with ASD was almost twice as high as of children without Autism. The top pollutants were cyanide, styrene and chromium. The results may be coincidental, yet because they are consistent with past studies, the study leader does not believe so.

We are finding some consistencies between the studies, which I consider to be important,” said Talbott, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh. ”Is it proving a cause? Absolutely not. But I do think it bears further looking into.”

The main limitation of the study is that researchers looked at pollutant exposure by county and then estimated the individual exposure instead of testing families individually.

Getting good individual-level exposure data is challenging and expensive,” said Newschaffer. “Still, these findings (this study and the other similar ones) do very strongly suggest that environmental factors broadly defined are playing an important role in causing autism.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Autism Spectrum Disorders are affecting approximately one out of 68 children in America which is a 30 percent increase since 2012. Although causes of the disease are still unknown, many researchers relate it to environmental factors, genetics or both. If the correlation between air pollution and ASD is proven to be a direct link, this finding can decrease the amount of children with this disorder significantly.

Read more here – “Study Suggests Link Between Air Pollution Exposure And Autism,” (Jon Fortenbury, Forbes).

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Anna is a current student at The George Washington University in Washington, DC with a concentration in Marketing and Communication. She specializes in social media outreach and has experience working in government contracting.

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