Exposure to pollution in utero and in early life increases the risk of autism spectrum disorders, according to findings published in Environmental Health Perspective by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.
After analyzing data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, HSPH researchers found that pregnant women living in the 20% of areas with the highest levels of diesel and mercury pollution had double the risk of having a child with autism compared with women living in the 20% of areas with the lowest levels of pollution. In areas with the highest 20% of lead, manganese and methylene chloride, the risk of having a child with autism went up 50%.
A study published in 2012 in the Archives of General Psychiatry reported similar findings, but the data was limited to a single geographic region. This is the first study to examine the relationship between autism and pollution levels in a nationwide sample.
What do you make of this report, and what should the ob/gyn community do about it?
Roberts, Andrea L., et al. Perinatal Air Pollutant Exposures and Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Children of Nurses’ Health Study II Participants. Environ Health Perspect; published online June 18, 2013.