Posted: 06/18/2013 12:31 am EDT
Living in an area with high levels of air pollution may increase a woman's chances of having a child with autism, according to the first national study to date that investigates the possible link.
"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," study author Andrea Roberts, a research associate with the Harvard School of Public Health, told The Huffington Post.
Earlier studies have established a potential connection between air pollution and autism risk, but have concentrated on a few individual states. The latest study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives
on Tuesday, draws on a large sample of women across the whole country.
Researchers crossed 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. They looked for associations between levels of pollutants in the time and place that a woman was pregnant and whether that woman went on to have a child with a diagnosed autism spectrum disorder.
The researchers split up the locations into fifths, and women who lived in the most polluted sections -- those with the highest levels of diesel particulates or mercury in the air -- were twice as likely to have a child with autism compared to those in the cleanest sections. Other types of air pollution, including lead, manganese and other hard metals, were also linked to a greater risk of autism, although the risk was not quite as high...