Exposure to air pollution by pregnant mothers doubles autism risks in kids

Pregnant women exposed to severe air pollution doubles the risk of having children with autism. This was revealed by a national study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health.

The new study "Perinatal Air Pollutant Exposures and Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Children of Nurses' Health Study II Participants" published June 18 on Environmental Health Perspectives looked into the effects of toxicants in the air to the developing fetus in the womb.

"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," explained Andrea Roberts from the HSPH and lead author of the study.

The findings of the study pointed to pollutants in the air such as methylene chloride, mercury, manganese, lead and diesel. The odds of an unborn child developing an autism spectrum disorder later on in life doubles when the would-be mother is exposed to high levels of mercury and diesel in the air. The other metals also increased the odds to 1.5.

"The results showed that women who lived in the 20% of locations with the highest levels of diesel particulates or mercury in the air were twice as likely to have a child with autism as those who lived in the 20% of areas with the lowest levels," the researchers said.

The study showed that the exposure to pollutants were more likely to affect boys than girls but the proponents noted that this conclusion warrants further studies because there were fewer girls involved in the study.

While previous studies looked into the effects of air pollutants in specific states before, this study had a broader coverage. The proponents looked into the data of 325 mothers with a child with autism and also studied data of 22,000 women with no history of a child having autism. All of 50 states were represented in the study.

The experts used reported level of pollutants from the Environmental Protection Agency and looked at the possible link of autism and the place and time of birth.

"All of the chemicals studied are known neurotoxins. They are also known to pass from mother to baby while a woman is pregnant. It's very plausible that the 'stuff' the mother is taking in through the air is affecting her baby's brain development," Roberts explained in an interview with the Huffington Post.

The Center for Disease Control's autism statistics shows that one in 88 kids may have autism. Expenditures for children with autism exceed those for kids without autism by as much as $6,200 annually.

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