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Poor Air Quality Linked to Autism Risk

June 20, 2013
Public Health

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p>A study by researchers at Harvard University’s School of Public Health has found that mothers who are exposed to high levels of air pollution are twice as likely to give birth to a child with autism.Trends were identified from the US Nurses Health Study II which started in 1989 and involved 116,430 nurses.

The link to air quality was originally made in 2006 at the California Department of Health Services followed by further research in Boston in November 2012. Marc Weisskopf one of the authors of the latest study agreed that up until now the link had still been open to question; “ People were skeptical and I wanted to do this in a larger setting, not at all convinced we would see anything.”

Studying 325 women who had a child with autism and 22,000 women who had a child without the disorder researchers used records from the US Environmental Protection Agency to estimate exposure, a method Weiisskopf admitted needs further work. “There’s a lot of error in estimating what the mother’s exposed to, but the study is large enough to suggest follow-up studies with more precise methods of detecting chemicals in the air,” he said. Results were adjusted to take account of the influence of other factors such as income, education and smoking during pregnancy. It has been known for sometime that exposure to diesel particulates, lead, manganese, mercury, methylene chloride, and other pollutants can affect brain function. One in 50 children in the US are diagnosed with autism or a related disorder according to figures from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.