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Study: Pollution Raises Risk of Autism

A study released today by USC and Children's Hospital Los Angeles found that exposure to air pollution traffic during pregnancy and the first year of life increases an infant's risk of autism.

Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy and the first year of life increases an infant's risk of autism, according to a study released Tuesday by USC and Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

The researchers behind the study, titled "Traffic Related Air Pollution, Particulate Matter, and Autism," say exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy and early life is linked to a more than two-fold risk of autism.

In addition, exposure to regional pollution consisting of nitrogen dioxide and small pollution particles is also associated with autism, even if the mother did not live near a busy road, according to research published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, a sister publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The USC/CHLA study found that children whose mothers lived in areas with high levels of pollution from traffic or with poor air quality during pregnancy or the first year of life may be more likely to have autism.

"This work has broad potential public health implications," said the study's principal investigator, Dr. Heather Volk, assistant professor of preventive medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine and an investigator at CHLA.

"We've known for a long time that air pollution is bad for our lungs, and especially for children," she said. "We're now beginning to understand how air pollution may affect the brain."

The research is the first to look at the amount of near-roadway traffic pollution to which individuals were exposed and combine that with measures of regional air quality, Volk said.

The study builds on previous research that examined how close subjects lived to a freeway, Volk said.

"We took into account how far away people lived from roads, meteorology such as which way the wind was blowing, how busy the road was, and other factors to study traffic-related pollution," she said. "We also examined data from air quality monitors, which measure pollution over a larger region that could come from traffic, industry, rail yards or many other sources."

Libi Uremovic November 29, 2012 at 02:36 PM
if air and auto pollution were a key factor places like mexico city would have a far higher number than the states....this chart shows that the states has a much higher autism percentage than any other country: http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/a/autism/stats-country.htm the highest population of autism in this country is in utah, which sort of blows the antipollution theory out of the water: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/jazz/53816934-78/autism-utah-rate-identified.html.csp
iblocal November 29, 2012 at 03:00 PM
I agree with you.. I know autism is real but why does the united states have so much? somethings not right.
Jon Hall November 29, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Perhaps because the USA has the best Health Care system in the world --- detection, diagnosis, and treatment in America is second to none --- for now ...
Michael November 29, 2012 at 07:26 PM
.....maybe it's prescription meds.....lord knows we have the most pill poppers
Erika Lowery November 29, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Jon, that is very true. We do diagnose the lower end spectrum more than most countries. I am working with a friend in England whose son is more sever than mine but she can't get any care for him. Air pollution is the theory of the day, Literally a couple weeks ago it was if mom got a cold while pregnant. As a mom of an autistic son I get frustrated with these reports. It is something new every week. I would like to see half of the money going into helping those young people that need it with early detection. It really is the one "cure" that autistic kids can rely on right now. (((steps off my soapbox)))
Miriam Iosupovici November 29, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Erika: Not a 'now' response, but you might be interested in a fascinating NY Times article "The Autism Advantage" describing the outcome of a Daniah autistic child's father's recognition that he had exceptional abilities and his founding of a company that evaluates, coaches and places autistic adults in often high tech positions. This company now on E. Coast. Worth reading IMO <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/magazine/the-autism-advantage.html?pagewanted=all>
Mike G November 29, 2012 at 11:19 PM
"Presently, we don’t have a medical test that can diagnose autism. Instead, specially trained physicians and psychologists administer autism-specific behavioral evaluations." http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/diagnosis. If we can't definitively medically diagnose this malady how can we possibly attempt to explain causation? Everyday there is a new 'culprit'. Vaccination, pollution, poor life-style choices, diet, genetics, etc. Maybe not every kid is Einstein? And yes, I know this post will go over like a fart in church but someone has to say it. You can't keep ignoring the elephant in the room. Some kids are just smarter than others and some, well, not so much. I'm not 6 ft 9 in, tall with a 36 in. vertical and a killer jump shot. I can't throw a football 75 yards, or throw a baseball 100 MPH. Am I athletically 'autistic'? Should I be evaluated by "specially trained physicians and psychologists that administers 'sports' autism-specific behavior'. Stop victimizing kids! Just because your spawn, the fruit of your loins isn't the next Steve Jobs doesn't mean your's is special or qualifies as disabled. How about you look for, and nurture, what they can do instead of focusing on what they can't?
Erika Lowery November 29, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Mike, your point is very well taken. I was in less of a shock to get the diagnosis, but I knew something was wrong when Xavier went from counting to 10 and having a normal vocabulary to not being to say "momma". That was red flag #2. Red flag #1 was his eating problems - which was 2 fold medical and his autism. We have a wonderful time playing up what Xavier can do - puzzles, he's a great little "student" during structured time, doing his own "homework" etc. I see him doing well academically at some point, because he loves this structure. Socially he has such a hard time. So we are working on that and getting his language up past 28 months. He will be 4 in April. Hindsight being 20/20, my family and I saw a lot of "off" or "not regular" behaviors in him long before his diagnosis.So we work on those behaviors. Not all will be 100% normal, but we are working on lessening them. That is why I am such an advocate for early diagnosis and intervention. If it weren't for that, he would never want to go the beach. He is terrified over large bodies of water - anything jacuzzi size or larger. He also had - yes past tense - a strong aversion to contact with sand. By playing at the parks, making him "work through it" and having guidance through the awesome therapists at Rady's we got him past this. Now we have part of the sand boxes coming home in his shoes nearly daily. Early diagnosis, not labeling. Working together with those who have knowledge. These are the keys.
Erika Lowery November 29, 2012 at 11:35 PM
It is a long way away, but we are planning for Xavier's future. He is going to be a life - long IB resident since this is going to be his house. My oldest wants to live near him to keep an eye on him. We have no idea where his strengths will lie, or where he will excel right now. But if today is any indication, it will be something regarding computers. This kid is faster on a computer than I would ever be at his age.

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