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Tiny Air Pollutants During Pregnancy Increase ASD Risk

By Shana R. Spindler, PhD on January 30, 2015


Background: While genetic factors play a significant role in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), several studies have pointed to air pollution as a potential  environmental contributor to ASD risk.


What’s new: On December 18, 2014, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives featured a study exploring the correlation between ASD and air pollutant exposure before, during, and after pregnancy. The researchers found that exposure to particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size—about 1/30 the width of a hair—during the third trimester significantly associated with an increased risk of autism. Larger particulate matter (2.5-10 micrometers) and exposure before pregnancy, during the first and second trimesters, and after pregnancy were not strongly linked to autism.


Why it’s important: Three recent studies found similar results. The strengths of the current study include a relatively large sample size (245 cases and 1522 controls), sampling from across the United States, timing of pollutant exposure, and a focus on specific particulate matter. The type of air pollution associated with ASD risk in this study is produced by all types of combustion, including car engines, power plants, and wood burning.

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