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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Air Pollution-Autism Link Identified by Pitt Researchers

From the Pittsburgh, PA Business Times

By Kris B. Mamula
May 28, 2015

A University of Pittsburgh study has identified an association between air pollution and autism, the third study of its kind in recent years to finger the connection.

Exposure to fine particulate air pollution during pregnancy and through the first two years of a child’s life may be connected to an increased risk of autism, the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health study found.

Pitt Epidemiology Professor
Dr. Evelyn Talbott
Pitt researchers said that children with higher exposures to the pollution had a 1.5-fold greater risk of autism after accounting for other factors associated with risk of the disease, such as mother’s age, education and smoking during pregnancy.

Autism is a disorder characterized by communication difficulties and trouble understanding abstract concepts.

One in 68 children have autism, treatment options are limited and there is no cure.

The study focused on children and mothers living in Allegheny and five adjoining counties and the results mirror two previous studies that identified an association, but not a causality link, between air pollution and autism.

More research is needed to find out whether air pollution is a cause of autism, said Pitt Epidemiology Professor Evelyn Talbott, the study’s lead author.

“I don’t think the verdict is in yet, but this is a smoking gun that needs to be evaluated,” she said. “On any given day, Pittsburgh is in air quality attainment, but we know there’s pockets of bad air everywhere.”

Autism isn't the only air quality worry, said Phil Johnson, director of science and environment at the Heinz Endowments, which funded the Pitt study. Since the early 1970s, at least 33 studies involving Pittsburgh have identified a positive or statistically significant connection between air quality and heart disease, stroke and other health issues.

An area encompassing Pittsburgh, New Castle and Weirton W.Va., ranked sixth out of 277 metropolitan areas nationwide for annual particulate pollution in 2014, according to the American Lung Association.

Talbott and her colleagues performed a population-based, case-control study of families with and without autism who lived in six southwestern Pennsylvania counties. The study focused on air pollution such as dust, dirt, soot and smoke with particles about one-30th the average human hair width, which reach the bloodstream.

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