Study: Children Born in Polluted Areas Face 50% Higher Autism Risk

By on June 20, 2013
According to the Autism Society, 1 out of 88 children could develop autism–but if you live in an area with high pollution, this risk increases by up to 60 percent, says a recent study.

The study, which was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, shows that women who live in areas known to contain high levels of pollutants, such as diesel and mercury, were more likely to give birth to a child with an autism spectrum disorder.

“Our findings raise concerns since, depending on the pollutant, 20% to 60% of the women in our study lived in areas where risk of autism was elevated,” says the study’s lead author, Andrea Roberts, a research associate for the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study seems to confirm researchers’ fears that toxins, such as mercury, can affect an unborn fetus’s development, and in the long run, make them more susceptible to an autism spectrum disorder. However, in 2012, a study concluded that mercury found in vaccines were not responsible for the growing autism epidemic.

Now this study may bring mercury back to the forefront.

What the Study Revealed About Autism

The study, which was lead by researchers from multiple universities in the United States, including the Harvard School of Public Health, had a hypothesis: Could air pollution be responsible for increasing autism rates?

To figure it out, researchers pulled data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, a research project that tracked over 100,000 nurses starting from 1989. Out of the 100,000 women were 325 women who had a child with autism, and from there they explored any possible environmental links.

To help with their study, they researched readings from the Environmental Protection Agency to find out the level of harmful toxins in the environment where (and when) the child was born.

After reviewing the data, the hypothesis became clear: Women who lived in areas with the highest level of diesel or mercury air pollution were twice as likely to have an autistic child. On the contrary, women who gave birth to children in low pollution areas were the least likely to have autistic children.

While there isn’t any direct evidence showing that environmental toxins can trigger autism, the correlational evidence is obvious–and it continues to strengthen.

Autism and Your Child: What Can You Do?

If you’re thinking of becoming pregnant, or know someone who does, the evidence couldn’t be clearer: Environmental toxins aren’t good for you. And, if you know your risk of giving birth to a child with autism is greater due to a family history of autism spectrum disorders, then prevention is your key here. But how?

While not all risk factors for autism can be controlled, a quick move might be worth your consideration in the meanwhile. Highly polluted cities aren’t just bad if your child is at risk for autism; pollution can often trigger other problems, such as asthma.

Otherwise, keep your head high: Although pollution may trigger higher autism rates, its overall rate is still low (2 percent).

Readers: What are some other ways you try to minimize your child’s risk of autism?

Exposure to High Pollution Levels Increase Childhood Autism

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