Exposure to fine particulate air pollution is associated with increased risk of childhood autism, according to a study carried out by University of Pittsburgh researchers and published in the Journal of Environmental Research.
Researchers did a population-based, case-control study of families with children with and without autism spectrum disorders in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
Southwestern Pennsylvania consistently ranks as having among the worst levels of particulate air pollution, or PM2.5. That pollution can come from cars and industry, such as coke plants. It’s easily inhaled and can get into the lungs and blood stream.
Autism affects one in 68 children, according to data from the CDC. There is no known cause or cure.
Evelyn Talbott, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, was the lead researcher on the study.
The study used data from 211 families dealing with autism and 219 families not on the spectrum.
“We were able to use monitored information to determine their specific location, their residence and where the mother was living when she was pregnant, and also calculate and average daily PM2.5 intensity for each of her pregnancy periods,” Talbott said.
Recorded periods include just before the pregnancy, at each of the three trimesters and again two years after pregnancy.
This study correlates with previous research done in California and was funded by the Heinz Endowments.
Talbott will continue her work looking at indoor pollution and other potential contributing factors, she said.
“We really do exist in a sea of chemicals and we have to just be vigilant and be aware that we want to keep as much of that out of our bodies as we can,” she said.