Autism Risk Increases with Exposure to Traffic Pollution

Children exposed to <"">traffic pollution have double the risk of being diagnosed with autism, versus other children, said Medical News Today, citing researchers from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC), and the UC Davis MIND Institute. Study results appear in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Study author, Heather Volk, PhD, MPH, wrote that “Children born to mothers living within 309 meters of a freeway appeared to be twice as likely to have autism,” quote Medical News Today. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) autism is on the rise with the incidence increasing by 57percent from 2002 to 2006, wrote Medical News Today.

Although earlier research suggests a link between air pollution exposure during pregnancy and negative effects on the developing fetus—and some studies have indicated links between air pollution and the first two years of life and cognitive development—this is the first study of its kind to reveal a traffic pollution-autism link, said Medical News Today.

The researchers reviewed information from the Childhood Autism Risks from the Genetics and Environment (CHARGE) study comparing autistic children to children who were developing typically; the children were between 24 and 60 months at the study’s start and all lived in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Francisco, explained Medical News Today. Control participants were recruited from California birth files and matched for autism case frequency by gender, age, and general location.

Families were evaluated by personal visit; children received assessment, and autism assessment was conducted with what Medical News Today described as “well-validated instruments.” Investigators also followed the locations where pregnant mothers resided during the first three trimesters and where the babies were born, noting the distance from a freeway or major road, said Medical News Today; gestational ages and prenatal records were utilized.

The research revealed that babies living within 1013.7 feet of a freeway experienced double the risk for autism versus other babies, after adjusting for gender, household education levels, mother’s age, prenatal smoking, and ethnic background, noted Medical News Today. The link, said the authors, existed when in close proximity to a freeway.

Air pollution has been linked to a number of diseases and disorders such as breast cancer and diabetes. And, said Medical News Today, studies have linked these pollutants to inflammation and oxidative stress, which is involved in the development of autism, supporting the study results.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, PhD, principal researcher on the CHARGE study, said, “We expect to find many, perhaps dozens, of environmental factors over the next few years, with each of them probably contributing to a fraction of autism cases. It is highly likely that most of them operate in conjunction with other exposures and/or with genes,” quoted Medical News Today.

The origins of autism have long been questioned and critics have blamed PCBs, mercury, and vaccinations, to name a few. In two studies, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was found to contain mercury (the industry disputes these findings, see comment below), which has been at the root of a long and expansive debate over its connection to vaccines, fish, and the prevalence of autism and autism spectrum disorders plaguing children today. Recent research also found that 10 areas in California have twice the rates of autism versus surrounding areas.

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