By Bob Negele
A recent article in the Chicago Tribune is reporting that environmental toxins may cause reactions in fetuses and early infants which can manifest as autism.
The study showed that “children who were exposed to the highest levels of traffic-related air pollution during gestation and in early infancy were three times more likely to be diagnosed with the neurodevelopmental disorder than were those whose early exposure of such pollutants was very low.”
While people have known for years that traffic pollution can cause serious health conditions, the link to autism is very recent. The study which points to the link was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
In that study, a group of over 500 children were followed for several years following their birth.
The link drawn by the article is most evident “ at the highest levels of exposure, and slightly higher when the exposure comes later in a woman’s pregnancy. The strongest link was found between exposure to nitrogen dioxide- a pollutant found plentifully around freeways- and autism, while exposure to particulates was less strongly linked to autism.”
The article also claims to have taken into account many other factors that could affect the results. These other factors ranged from, “parental education, ethnicity, whether a mother smoked during pregnancy, or how densely populated the region was.”
This shows that the researchers were concerned about merely showing a link between socioeconomic status and autism. Instead, the article works to find out if there is a link between certain pollutants and autism.
One of the more concerning aspects about autism is it’s increasing prevalence. In the past six years, autism has increased in the U.S. by 78% percent. This research project was one of a string of three articles to address this issue.
The studies “point to an urgent need for more research on prenatal and early post-natal brain development in autism, with a focus on how genes and early development combine to increase risk” for autism, states Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of Autism Speaks and a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Diesel exhaust apparently is capable of interfering with gene expression, which is an important part of healthy brain development. This is a possible explanation for how pollutants could affect development enough to cause autism.
The authors of the research are careful to point out that this is not definitive proof that pollutants can cause autism. It is merely an early step into more thorough research to determine the overall health effects of these kinds of pollutants.
And while the research is just starting, we can all appreciate the dangerous effects of pollutants. Regardless of its role in autism, we all should have plenty of reasons to avoid these toxins.