Living in an area with high levels of air pollution may nearly double a woman’s chance of having an autistic child, according to a new study.
Along with showing a link between air pollution and autism, the study from Harvard University also suggests that boys may be at a higher risk for autism disorders when their mothers are exposed to polluted air during pregnancy.
Using data from a survey of 116,430 nurses, researchers were able to track 325 women who had a child with autism and 22,000 women who had a child without the disorder.
By comparing the information from the survey with pollution data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the study determined that women in areas with high levels of diesel exhaust or air pollution including lead, manganese, nickel or methylene chloride during their pregnancy were at a significantly higher risk of having a child with an autism disorder.
Dr. Alfred Munzer, Medical Director of Pulmonology at Washington Adventist Hospital and former President of the American Lung Association said about the study, “We have known that hazardous pollutants can have deleterious effects on the central nervous system in a laboratory setting, but this study shows a clear correlation between actual levels in the atmosphere and a deleterious effect on brain development. It adds urgency to ridding the environment of hazardous pollutants by eliminating the emission of the pollutants by power plants and other sources.”
The researchers suggested that further studies measuring the levels of pollutants in the bloodstream of pregnant women could offer a better understanding of the link between air pollution and autism.