Researchers have found a link between early-life exposure to high levels of air pollution and Autism. In the CHARGE study (Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment), children living in areas with high traffic-generated air pollution during their first year of life were three times more likely to have autism compared to children living in areas with low levels.
According to MedPage Today, the study sample was mostly male (84%) and white (50%), and there was no difference between cases and controls in demographic, socioeconomic, or lifestyle variables. The study comprised of 524 children, ages two to three years of age and 279 of whom were autistic living in the Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Francisco areas.
“We’re not saying traffic pollution causes autism, but it may be a risk factor for it,” said Heather Volk in a statement to Reuters. Volk is an assistant professor at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Her research focuses on the environmental and genetic epidemiology of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders and on gene-environment interaction in complex disease.
Critics of the recent study are hard pressed to draw the association. In her article on Forbes, Emily Willingham writes: “The authors also did not control for smoking in the home or for indoor pollutants, although they did control for maternal smoking. So there’s no way to know what second-hand smoke or other indoor pollutant exposure might have been for the mothers or the children.”
Despite these findings, proving the cause and effect link of pollution and autism will still need further investigation. Currently, the research is stating that pollution is a risk factor for Autism. Given that Autism is a complex developmental disorder, the new study raises questions that denotes further studies and funding for research to understand this disease that wasn’t prevalent just two generations ago.