New Study Links Mother’s Air Pollution Exposure to Children With Autism
A new research study indicates that living in a high traffic area can be potentially dangerous, and not just to a mom, but to her unborn child.
The scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives published a study Tuesday indicating that pregnant women who live in areas with increased levels of air pollution, especially diesel and mercury, are at a higher risk of having their child develop autism.
In the largest study of its kind, researchers matched U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data on the level of air pollutants from year to year with data from the Nurses' Health Study, one of the longest running investigations of women's health in the U.S. Research from the large sample size indicates a direct link between autism in children and traffic-generated air pollution.
Huffington Post reports that, according to Andrea Roberts, study author and research associate with the Harvard School of Public Health, "Women who were exposed to the highest levels of diesel or mercury in the air were twice as likely to have a child with autism than women who lived in the cleanest parts of the sample.”
The study also found risk from exposure to other types of air pollution, including manganese and lead, although they noted the risk was not quite as high. Adds Roberts, "All of the chemicals studied are known neurotoxins. They are also known to pass from mother to baby while a woman is pregnant. It's very plausible that the 'stuff' the mother is taking in through the air is affecting her baby's brain development."
Roberts says the next step scientifically is to research blood samples of both mothers and their babies to see what chemicals are actually being absorbed. That data will help researchers determine if the link truly exists, and they can begin to understand which specific pollutants are the most damaging.
A previous study linked exposure to high levels of traffic-related air pollution at a young age to ADHD. In this study, researchers concluded that children exposed to high levels of air pollution within early life -— especially their first year — were more prone to be at risk of developing ADHD by age 7.
What are some specific steps women can take to mitigate the risks of air pollution? For now, healthcare providers recommend eating well, taking a prenatal vitamin, getting regular prenatal check-ups, and staying away from sick people and viruses.