When searching for the cause of autism, pollution continues to surface. Previous research showed that women who are exposed to high levels of air pollution while pregnant are twice as likely to have a child with autism. A new study, completed at Harvard University, and published in Environmental Health Perspectives, has come up with the same results.
The new study provided more details about the connection between air pollution and autism. Researchers found that women who were in their third trimester and breathed in air from power plants, fires and car exhaust were more likely to have children with autism. According to Marc Weisskopf, the higher the exposure to air pollutants, the higher the risk of having a child with autism.
Researchers used the Nurses’ Health Study II, which includes information on over 116,000 women and their children born between 1990 and 2002. A random selection of the participants yielded information on 245 children with autism and 1,522 without. The areas the women lived in, before, during and after pregnancy were analyzed for pollutants based on information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The scientists found that fine-particulate pollution was most closely associated with autism. This type of pollution is caused by burning fossil fuels, for example, automobile exhaust and industrial pollution. It can also be found indoors, for example, when using fireplaces or burning candles.
Researchers point out that although there is a link between pollution exposure in the third trimester of pregnancy and the risk of autism, pollution is not a “cause” of autism. This condition is a complex disorder and most experts agree it is probably caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Just because a woman is exposed to fine-particulate pollution during pregnancy, it does not mean her child will definitely have autism; it is also true that avoiding this type of pollutants does not guarantee a child will be born without autism.
Because of the link and increased risk of developing autism, however, women who are pregnant are advised against being in high pollution areas and encouraged to avoid walking along busy highways. When the outside air pollution is very high, pregnant women are advised to stay indoors.
Published On: December 22, 2014