Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Exposure to traffic pollution in pregnancy, first year of life appears to be associated with autism

Exposure to traffic-related air pollution,  during pregnancy and during the first year of a child's life appears to be associated with an increased risk of autism, according to a new report published by Archives of General Psychiatry.

Researchers at the University of Southern California, looked at the relationship between traffic-related air pollution, air quality and autism in a study that included 279 children with autism and control group of 245 children with typical development.

"Exposures to traffic-related air pollution, PM [particulate matter] and nitrogen dioxide were associated with an increased risk of autism. These effects were observed using measures of air pollution with variation on both local and regional levels, suggesting the need for further study to understand both individual pollutant contributions and the effects of pollutant mixtures on disease," the authors comment.

The authors used mothers' addresses to estimate exposure for each pregnancy trimester and for a child's first year of life. Children living in homes with the highest levels of traffic-related air pollution were three times as likely to have autism compared with children living in homes with the lowest exposure.

Autism is a diverse disorder with genetic and environmental factors likely contributing to its origins. Autism spectrum disorders are commonly characterized by problems in communication, social interaction and repetitive behaviors. Emerging evidence suggests the environment plays a role in autism, but only limited information is available about what exposures are relevant and what stages of  development in which they act.

"Although additional research to replicate these findings is needed, the public health implications of these findings are large because air pollution exposure is common and may have lasting neurological effects," the authors conclude.


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