Air pollution raises autism risk
While scientists have yet to pinpoint a singular cause of autism, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health say their analysis suggests that exposure to high levels of air pollution during pregnancy could raise the risk of a woman giving birth to a child with the condition.
The research focused on 325 women who gave birth to a child who was eventually diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and compared them to a group of 22,000 mothers whose children did not have the disorder. The researchers studied the amount of pollution the mothers had been exposed to while pregnant, and discovered that pregnant mothers living in areas ranking in the top 20 percent of air pollution had twice the risk of having a child with autism.
The scientists concentrated on diesel and mercury particulates in the air, both of which have been identified as affecting the neurological development of a fetus. Further research found that other pollutants, such as lead, methylene chloride and manganese, also contributed to increased risk of autism if the mother had been exposed during pregnancy.
The study also determined that there was a closer association between autism risk during pregnant and pollution levels if the mother was carrying a boy, though this does not rule out the risk for baby girls as well.