Air pollution may double risk of autism, USC study concludes

A view of downtown Los Angeles,Californi

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The smog that still shrouds downtown Los Angeles from time to time can contribute to the development of autism in infants, a new USC study concludes.

People exposed to poor air quality during pregnancy and in their first year of life are more prone to the effects of autism, a study released Monday concludes. 

The University of Southern California study suggests that exposure to traffic-generated air pollution, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide during pregnancy and during the first year of a child’s life may more than double that child’s risk of autism.

Researchers reviewed the records of more than 500 children — about half of whom were considered to be normally developing and half of whom were diagnosed with autism, a complex set of brain disorders characterized by problems with social interactions and communications.

“In particular for traffic pollution we found children exposed to [the] highest amount of pollution relative to the lowest were at a two-to-threefold increased risk for autism,” says Heather Volk, a researcher for the Keck School of Medicine of USC and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, who led the study.

The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, adds to a growing body of evidence that links the development of autism and possible environmental factors  such as air pollution.

Leslie A. Richard, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, says parents can best protect their children against any possible links between autism and air pollution simply by following regional air quality advisories for those most vulnerable.

“So if they’re pregnant, they may want to stay inside or be away from the open air on days that we have bad pollution,” she says.   

Traffic-Related Air Pollution, Particulate Matter, and Autism

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