Bad air quality as a potential cause of autism

Such a conclusion has recently been drawn by a team of researchers in Shanghai. Their study indicates there is a relationship between typical pollutants in the air and changes in the neurological development process.

It also turns out that exposure to some types of air pollutants in early childhood may significantly increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)[1] symptoms.

„The serious health effects of air pollution are well-documented… Even exposure to very small amounts of fine particulate matter have been linked to pre-term births, delayed learning, and a range of serious health conditions, including heart disease”, says the study’s lead author Yuming Guo. The main matter of air pollution includes inhalable particles of up to 10 micrometres containing carbon, sulphur oxides, and organic compounds coming from road traffic, industrial processes and burning of fossil fuels.

So far studies have focused mainly on air pollution’s negative impact on the respiratory system and links to cardiovascular disease. A raised risk of impaired neurological development was less obvious. Most studies suggesting a link between ASD and air quality concentrated on prenatal exposure or exposure during the child’s first year. However, no one examined the impact such pollution has on the child’s development in the later childhood.

And, as Yuming Guo assesses, the developing brains of young children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures, which may impair the functioning of the brain itself and of the immunological system.

In 2014 the research team compared 124 cases of ASD with 1,240 children aged 3 to 12, who were not diagnosed with ASD. The children were selected from primary schools and kindergartens in Shanghai. The team concluded that exposure to pollution may increase the likelihood for developing ASD by as much as 86%. The study results have been published in Environmental International journal.


[1] https://www.sciencealert.com/particulate-matter-in-air-pollution-raises-autism-risks-in-the-first-few-years?fbclid=IwAR1RfzC5E9w9U0LSfN8O13jGsyyf_ruyhDqH07-_RT2REO8N4oC47r7ShBg