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Vancouver study shows air pollution linked to possibility of autism





Prenatal exposure to air pollution has been linked to an increased likelihood of autism, according to a recently published Vancouver-based study.


Arlen Redekop / PNG

Prenatal exposure to air pollution has been linked to an increased likelihood of autism, according to a recently published Vancouver-based study.

Lief Pagalan, a Simon Fraser University researcher, conducted the birth cohort study in Metro Vancouver using birth data from 2004 through 2009.

The study analyzed air pollution to assess exposure rates over the same period and found that there was an increased risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder in children when their pregnant mothers were exposed to air pollutants such as particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide.

The impact, however, was small and not statistically significant.

“Our study, which indicates that air pollution is associated with ASD in a city with relatively lower levels of air pollution adds to the growing concern that there may be no safe levels of exposure to air pollution,” said Pagalan.

“While the causes of ASD are not yet fully known, this study suggests that reducing exposure to air pollutants in pregnant women could reduce the likelihood of their children developing autism.”

The findings are similar to those of previous studies conducted in the United States, Israel and Taiwan.

Pagalan noted that the study is important as it highlights that “there may be no safe levels of exposure to air pollution.” While the cause of autism is not fully known, researchers acknowledge that genetics and environmental factors play a role.

The study was conducted by linking pregnancy data with birth records in Vancouver from 2004 through 2009, alongside medical records of children up to the age of 5.

The study, Association of Prenatal Exposure to Air Pollution with Autism Spectrum Disorder was published in JAMA Pediatrics this year. It was conducted with the involvement of the following people and agencies:

• Celeste Bickford
• Whitney Weikum
• Bruce Lanphear
• Michael Brauer
• Nancy Lanphear
• Gillian E. Hanley
• Tim F. Oberlander
• Meghan Winters
• Faculty of Health Sciences, SFU
• Centre of Hip Health and Mobility
• School of Population and Public Health, UBC
• Department of Pediatrics, UBC
• Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children, BC Children’s Hospital
• BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute
• Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, UBC
• Population Data BC

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