Young children more likely to develop autism if they live near a busy road


Children who are exposed to traffic pollution before they are born and in the first year of life are twice as likely to develop autism, according to a new study.

American researchers from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California examined data from the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study of more than 400 children, 279 of which are affected by autism.

To estimate a child’s exposure to traffic air pollution before birth and during their first year of life, researchers looked at records from the US Environmental Protection Agency on the levels of nitrogen dioxide and particles produced from motor vehicle exhausts at a mother’s address.

They also took into account how far away mothers lived from roads, the way the wind was blowing, how busy the road was and the amount of pollution over a larger area that could come from traffic, industry or railways.

Their findings indicated that children exposed to traffic-related air pollution had more than a two-fold risk of autism. Even if mothers didn’t live near a busy road but in a region with poorer area quality there was an increased risk of their children developing the condition.

Heather Volk, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, who lead the study, said, ‘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.’

The authors of the study go on to say that if the findings are true then it may be possible to intervene by talking to mothers before they conceive about environmental risk factors of autism.

Caroline Hattersley, head of information, advice and advocacy at The National Autistic Society, said, ‘People with autism should receive timely support tailored specifically to their needs, so that they can reach their full potential. It is therefore vital that those with the developmental disability are diagnosed as early as possible.

‘This particular research is still in its very early stages and uses a relatively small sample. More extensive testing needs to be conducted before any concrete conclusions can be drawn.’
 
The study, ‘Traffic related air pollution, particulate matter, and autism’, is published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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