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Air pollution may be factor in autism, researchers report

Air pollution may be factor in autism, researchers report

By Susan Abram

| Los Angeles Daily News

First Published Nov 26 2012 06:11 pm • Updated 7 hours ago

Researchers have found that exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy is associated with autism, according to a new study released on Monday.

The study, published online in the Archives of General Psychiatry, found evidence that pollution may affect the developing brain among children whose mothers lived in areas where there was poor air quality.

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“Our work on autism is a piece of a great body of research on pollution as a health risk factor,” said Heather Volk, the lead researcher and assistant professor from the Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California.

“We’ve known for a long time that air pollution is bad for our lungs, and especially for children. We’re now beginning to understand how air pollution may affect the brain.”

Researchers examined 500 children, mostly boys, who lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. Half the children had autism. They studied mothers’ addresses from birth certificates and residential history then examined data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency from those areas, looking at levels of nitrogen dioxide, as well as fine (PM2.5) and course (PM10) particulate matter. They found that the finest particulate matter, even far from freeways, enters the lungs and blood, and eventually finds its way to the brain.

“Our study found that local estimates of traffic-related air pollution and regional measures of PM2.5, PM10, or nitrogen dioxide at residences were higher in children with autism,” researchers wrote.

The new study builds on previous work released in 2010 that found an association between the risk of autism and living within 1,000 feet of a freeway, though Volk would not specify which freeways were studied.

But Volk and other researchers cautioned that their work is not a definitive answer to why more children are being diagnosed with autism.

In 2006, 1 in 110 children in the United States was diagnosed with autism. Now the latest figures from the CDC indicate the rate has increased to 1 in 88.

Genetics, nutrition, and other environmental factors also must be considered. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 88 children are born with an autism-spectrum disorder.

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