Is There a Link Between Pollution and Autism?

Researchers have performed various studies seeking evidence to create a possible link between exposure to pollution and autism. Previous investigations were narrow and limited to but a few locations. However, more recently, a team of scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health expanded evaluations and assessed data from across the country involving many more women. Upon conclusion, the professionals learned that unborn children had double the chance of developing autism when pregnant mothers were living in areas considered as having substantial air pollution.

Expanded Research

The latest studies involved evaluations of 116,000 pregnant women living in all of the 50 states. The participants were divided into two groups having similar factors that included age and socioeconomic status. Scientists analyzed the pollution exposure of each volunteer that occurred before, during and after each woman gave birth. The team carefully calculated the amount of exposure over an extended period of time. They also took into account a number of other factors that could affect the health of the mother and child. Data compiled led the researchers to conclude that pollution exposure during the last trimester proved the most significant.

Complexity of Autism

Epidemiologists understand that the factors contributing to autism remain complex. Autism researchers from applied behavior analysis graduate programs say biological and genetic factors are also at play. Not all women exposed to pollution give birth to children who later exhibit autism symptoms. Not all children diagnosed with autism develop the disorder because of a link with pollution, either. Nevertheless, a correlation between environmental contamination and subsequent cellular damage seems to exist.

Hidden Dangers

The contaminants involved are particulates from chemicals that affect neurons. Once inhaled by pregnant women, the compounds pass through the mother and into the developing child. The matter exists in the air and in water droplets. Measuring less than 2.5 microns in diameter, the microscopic material is not noticeable compared to a grain of sand that spans 90 microns in diameter. The particles remain hidden where industries, vehicles and other sources spew pollutants. The list of contaminants suspected of being the culprits included lead, manganese, mercury and a variety of other heavy metals. There was also no association found between exposure to common, large particulates that include dust and mold.

Members of the research team voice that further evaluations of blood samples taken from mothers and infants would shed more light into which contaminants pose the greatest risk. However, armed with the new information, researchers have a better understanding concerning some of the specific factors contributing to autism spectrum disorders. The evidence provides medical experts with the means to educate the public concerning modifiable risks.

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