SFU links air pollution and autism - but will anyone listen?

Chris Campbell

For the longest time, the discussion around autism has been dominated by the idiotic (and thoroughly debunked) claims that vaccinations were a cause.

Now, Burnaby’s Simon Fraser University has released a major study that features actual scientific evidence linking autism and something very, very bad in our evironment.

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One of the largest studies to date on prenatal exposures to air pollutants and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) found an increased incidence of ASD in the children of more heavily exposed women. 

“Association of Prenatal Exposure to Air Pollution with Autism Spectrum Disorder” published in JAMA Pediatrics adds to the evidence that air pollution is a major risk factor for the development of ASD.

SFU Health Sciences researcher Lief Pagalan conducted the population-based birth cohort study in the Metro Vancouver area – which despite this past summer’s wildfire smoke-filled skies is still an area with relatively low levels of air pollution. Encompassing nearly all births in Metro Vancouver from 2004 through 2009, Pagalan analyzed air pollution data to assess exposure rates over the same period. 

The study included exposures to particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and nitric oxide. Results found an increased risk of ASD associated with exposure to air pollutants, although not all were statistically significant. The study’s results are consistent to similar studies in the United States, Israel, and Taiwan.

“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 in a news release. “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 study is significant because it 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,” said a news release.

Of course, this is difficult news for women planning on having children because, after all, it’s not like they can’t breathe.

“Avoiding air pollution during pregnancy is not easy because it's all around us and we are all exposed to it to varying degrees,” said the news release. “We should view these results 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.”
For me, preventing air pollution is definitely a much-better goal than avoiding vaccinations.

But will people listen to actual scientific evidence instead of crackpot theories on the internet? I have my doubts.

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