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Breathing polluted air during pregnancy may increase odds of baby having autism: SFU study

Study looked at nearly all births in Metro Vancouver between 2004 and 2009

A woman breathing polluted air while pregnant is linked to a higher chance of her baby developing autism, a new study from Simon Fraser University suggests.

The study, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, looked at 132,256 – nearly all – births in Metro Vancouver between 2004 and 2009.

Researchers used high-resolution maps of air pollution to measure women’s exposure to fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and nitric oxide during pregnancy and then looked to see whether autism rates were different for children of women living in more polluted parts of the region.

The results showed a slightly increased risk of autism in children whose would-be mothers had been exposed to nitric oxide, but not fine particulate matter or nitrogen dioxide.

SFU Health Sciences researcher Lief Pagalan, who analyzed the birth data, said the results were similar to others reached in the United States, Israel and Taiwan.

“Our study, which indicates that air pollution is associated with autism 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 autism 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.”


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