• Study
  • Nov 28th 2012 at 11:54AM
  • 22
Living close to highways has built-in health hazards. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma and carbon monoxide poisoning are two major public health problems caused by air pollution. Now, autism could be added to the list.

Exposure to high levels of air pollution from traffic may raise the risk of autism, says Heather Volk, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of research at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. USC researchers published a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry that found that children exposed to higher level of traffic-related pollutants during pregnancy or the first year of life were at increased risk of autism compared to children exposed to the lowest level. The risk of autism was two times higher during pregnancy and three times higher during the child's first year for the children close to highways compared to those living in areas with the lowest-level exposure.

The study looked at data from 279 children with autism and a comparison group of 245 children without it. Volk used the mothers' addresses to estimate exposure to air pollution during each trimester of pregnancy and during the child's first year of life. The researchers also used information from the Environmental Protection Agency and did traffic modeling to analyze how much air pollution was at each location. Exposure to particulate matter and nitrogen oxide were also factored in.

Autism may not be as easily diagnosed as other conditions, but there are a lot of parents out there learning how to have their child treated and cared for – about one in 88 children in the US have autism. As children get older, the problems can become more obvious in school, where they experience problems communicating and interacting socially.

It's only been about three years now that researchers have been looking at the potential role of air pollution in autism, Volk said. Air pollution has already been linked to other health issues, including babies being born small for their gestational age, she said. In 2011, Volk's research team reported a higher risk of autism for children living within about 1,000 feet of a freeway.

The EPA has made preventing public health hazards, along with environmental impact, one of its priorities in recent years while enacting air pollution and CO2 emissions regulations. The EPA says that enforcing the federal Clean Air Act is saving lives, preventing an estimated loss of 160,000 American lives per year in 2010 and potentially saving 230,000 in 2020.

The USC researcher acknowledges that it's too soon to claim a clear cause and effect relationship between air pollution and autism. Even if it gets dispelled, there is enough evidence to confirm that air pollution from vehicle emissions is harmful to health for humans and the planet.


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  • 22 Comments
      fairfireman21
      • 2 Years Ago
      If this was the case why would it only be 1 child in a family rather than all of them if they lived next to a highway for a long period of time? If 52% live in urban areas why is it only 1 in 88 children have some sort of symptoms of it, (key word Symptom) when they are not diagnosed with the problem? If so my daughter has it but my son does not even though they were raised in the same house for their whole lives together and he is older. Just another crock of crap they are trying to sell us.
      Levine Levine
      • 2 Years Ago
      3 stage diesel emission control produces the cleanest tailpipe, even cleaner than gasoline ICE. It's only a matter of time the 3 stage is applied to gasoline engines. With more EV, hybrids, scrubbers, and other emission controls installed throughout the industry and transportation, smog from man-made sources is all but eliminated, other than CO2. Government bureaucracy, once created, is like the energy-and-matter equation: it can not be destroyed. CARB and air quality unit of the EPA are solidify their existence with a water-down health study, basically a bogus report correlating autism and air pollution near freeways. The study failed to exclude other variables such as the persistent loud sounds from the freeway, the lower social status of those living near the freeway, intelligence and the genetic predisposition, among others.
      icemilkcoffee
      • 2 Years Ago
      Not good. The paper said that people living within 1000 ft of a freeway have elevated risks. I just pulled up Google map, and I'm about 1100ft from the freeway! Luckily both of my kids (both conceived and born in the same address) don't have this problem. Wish I had known about this when I was house-hunting though.
        Ashton
        • 2 Years Ago
        @icemilkcoffee
        lol, I think you'r being sarcastic...but you pull it off so well, that I can't even tell.
      Dave D
      • 2 Years Ago
      So considering that 1 out of 88 children has autism, according to the CDC (in 2008 and rising) and over 1.5 million Americans suffer from it. Also from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/news/20120329/autism-rates-cdc-2012 "At the new 2008 prevalence rate of one in 88 American children, autism costs the U.S. $137 billion a year. It has been estimated that 45% of Americans with autism have an intellectual disability. The lifetime cost for each person who has an intellectual disability related to autism is $2.3 million" Also, there are already 1.5 million Americans with autism (http://www.tacanow.org/family-resources/latest-autism-statistics-2/) Doing some quick math: 1.5 Million x $2.3M = $3.45TRILLION I know we don't factor that into cost of a gallon of gas.
      BipDBo
      • 2 Years Ago
      One more thing to blame for autism. Despite all of the evidence that has come out to debunk the vaccine-autism claims, many parents are still deciding to put their kids at risk of disease by not getting them immunized. Traffic pollution isn't exactly improving anyone's health, but for now, I'll just take this one with a big grain of salt.
        Dave D
        • 2 Years Ago
        @BipDBo
        I agree that the immunization thing is total BS and morons like Michelle Bachmann don't help. But it's clear that something is making it increase and more than can be accounted for by the fact that it is better diagnosed these days. I don't know whether it is something in food additives, or pollution from cars, or pollution in general...but I'm not inclined to ignore these things as they're not good anyway and could very likely contribute. They sure as hell don't help people like me with asthma.
          BipDBo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dave D
          I think its caused by Elmo.
          BipDBo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dave D
          There has been a link found between autism and the age of the mother. This is the only link I have heard of that sounds to me to hold any weight. People are postponing the rearing of children much more these days, especially in urba areas. I wouldn't be too surprised if the pollution link also bears out to be true eventually, but it's still a bit early to panic and runs for the hills on that one. I'm an engineer, though, and not a doctor, so my opinion on this topic isn't worth much.
          Dave D
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dave D
          Same here: Engineering background and I quit doing that to be a useless mgr/exec a long time ago so now I just like to pretend I'm still useful and my opinions still count :-)
          throwback
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dave D
          The other thing to remember is autism has been redifined along a spectrum. You have kids who are fully functional however show some symptoms of autism (like my son) who are considered autistic. In the past he would not have been considered so.
      MTN RANGER
      • 2 Years Ago
      Another good reason to drive a PEV!
      Mbukukanyau
      • 2 Years Ago
      I am doubtful. This sort of dubious 'study' makes it more difficult to actually address real problems.
      throwback
      • 2 Years Ago
      "Volk used the mothers' addresses to estimate exposure to air pollution during each trimester of pregnancy and during the child's first year of life." Does not sound like a very conclusive study to me. Pregnant women don't just stay home, and many new borns spend time in day care, or in the case of my kids with mom-mom.
      Giza Plateau
      • 2 Years Ago
      EV FTW
      bluepongo1
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'd like funding on air pollution being responsible for internal combustion fanboys feeling the need to post trolls on ABG.
      Marcopolo
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'm not sure that this sort of vague and dubious study doesn't do more hard than good to both the environmental cause and the plight of those coping with Autism. The methodology of this study is very dubious and seemed to be created out of ideology rather than the rigors of scientific discovery. The issues of both Autism, and air-pollution are far too serious too have any failed studies that may lessen public perception of either cause.
        DaveMart
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Marcopolo
        Looking at the link, there are not the sort of inflated claims and false certainties of bad science, but moderate and proportional language: 'In her previous study, Volk says, she just looked at how far people lived from roads. The new study went further. "Now we consider how busy the road was, traffic density, volume of traffic, and how often the road is traveled," she says. The risk of autism was higher for those exposed to more pollution, either before birth or during their first year. Based on the findings, however, Volk says she can't say that living in a specific area is worse than another. For instance, those who live in a rural area might be close to a very busy high-traffic intersection, increasing pollution exposure. She found a link or association. It does not prove cause and effect. The link held after she considered other factors that affect risk, such as prenatal smoking, the mother's age, race, and ethnicity.' That does not seem to be 'vague and dubious' as you say. She is in fact saying that there seems a possible link, and we should look into it harder, and makes no claim to have provided a definitive answer as yet. That seems fair enough to me.
          Marcopolo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          @ DaveMart I depends on what you mean by 'link'. A study with a sample in one area of a mere 500 or so, not even collected first hand, but extrapolated from data using the Mothers postal addresses to 'estimate' the exposure to data collected for other purposes to 'model' results, is hardly comprehensive. Children of farmers in remote locations, are diagnosed with Autism. No one, certainly not me. would argue that air pollution isn't harmful to health. However, these sort of extrapolations, are not really helpful. Hundreds of other factors could also be substituted for the Air pollution factors, and produce the same results. By all means, research these theories, but wait until there is some real evidence before announcing such premature predictions. Consider the parents, who may suffer years of guilt and unnecessary anguish believing their child was impacted by their choice of residential location, especially those who can't afford to live elsewhere. These sort of claims quickly become folklore, and it may be years, or if ever before a complete study disproves something that at the present time is little more than conjecture.
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