Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is linked with fine particle pollution exposure during pregnancy and the first two years of a baby’s life, researchers from University of Pittsburgh says.
“Autism spectrum disorders are lifelong conditions for which there is no cure and limited treatment options, so there is an urgent need to identify any risk factors that we could mitigate, such as pollution,” says lead author Evelyn Talbott in the press release of the university.
Dr. Talbott and her team surveyed the families of 211 children with ASD and 219 children without ASD born between 2005 and 2009 in six Pennsylvania counties.
They also collected data on where mothers lived before, during, and after the pregnancy and their estimated exposure to the air pollution called PM2.5.
The PM2.5 type of pollution contains particles less than 2.5 micron in diameter, including soot, dirt, dust and smoke, which can reach in lungs and get into the blood.
After excluding factors such as mother’s age, smoking during pregnancy, researchers found that children with higher exposure to PM2.5 pollution have 1.5 fold greater risk of developing ASD. This is in agreement with previous studies showing association between ASD and air toxics such as chromium and styrene.
It’s important to keep in mind that these studies only show correlations not the mechanisms that are involved.
“Our findings reflect an association, but do not prove causality. Further investigation is needed to determine possible biological mechanisms for such an association”, says Dr. Talbott.