Vancouver study links prenatal exposure to air pollution with autism

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      A joint study by two B.C. universities has discovered a link between prenatal exposure to air pollution and an increased incidence of autism.

      The multiyear project by SFU's faculty of health sciences and UBC's department of pediatrics and school of population and public health researched pregnancy databases and all birth records in Vancouver from 2004 to 2009, as well as the children's medical records for their first five years.

      The researchers used that data to determine mothers' exposure to air pollution by consulting "high-resolution maps of air pollution".

      According to a November 19 SFU media release, "Pregnant women more heavily exposed to air pollution had higher chances of having children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This suggests that air pollution plays a role in the development of ASD, although the overall impact was small and other risk factors are also relevant."

      Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children and B.C. Children's Hospital were also involved in the study, as was Population Data B.C.—a multi-university data and education resource—and UBC's department of obstetrics and gynaecology.

      The release noted that the study results should be viewed as "additional evidence of the widespread health impacts of air pollution. More specifically, as there is no cure for ASD, prevention of air pollution has the potential to lead to reductions in ASD."

      Pollutant exposures studied included particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and nitric oxide.

      SFU researcher Lief Pagalan noted in the release: "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."

      The study, titled Association of Prenatal Exposure to Air Pollution With Autism Spectrum Disorder, has been published in JAMA Pediatrics.