Air Pollution and Autism: The Evidence Grows Stronger

Mom and daughter look at air pollution from factory stacks.Parents have a lot to worry about these days, and a recent study shows you may need to start thinking about the air your baby breathes even before you give birth. The study, conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), reveals that in-utero exposure to air pollution may contribute to higher risks for autism.

For some time, we’ve been keenly aware of the link between air pollution and asthma, heart disease, chronic respiratory illnesses, allergies, and more. The HSPH findings, along with previous studies, indicate that autism may need to be added to this list.

The study indicates that early-life exposure to air contaminants, such as mercury, diesel particles, and lead, could contribute to higher risk for autism. Researchers based their finding on data collected from 116,430 nation-wide nurses participating in the Nurses’ Health Study II, an on-going survey that began in 1989, and compared it against data regarding levels of pollutants reported by the Environmental Protection Agency during the women’s pregnancies.

In a public statement, senior study author Marc Weisskopf, an associate professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology at HSPH, said, “Our results suggest that new studies should begin the process of measuring metals and other pollutants in the blood of pregnant women or newborn children to provide stronger evidence that specific pollutants increase risk of autism.”

Weiskopf continued, “A better understanding of this can help to develop interventions to reduce pregnant women’s exposure to these pollutants.”

With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reporting a ten-fold increase in the prevalence of American children on the autism spectrum over the last 40 years, research such as that conducted by HSPH is more vital than ever for helping those currently living with autism and discovering preventative measures.

You can check out the full study in the June issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

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