Study: Air pollution linked to autism

A new study published in the December 18th issue of Environmental Health Perspectives states that women in their third trimester of pregnancy increase the risk of their child being autistic is exposed to high levels of particulate matter or air pollution. Bloomberg reports that researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health came to this conclusion using data that had begun to be taken as early as 1989 and involved more than 100,000 nurses across the United States.

“One of the unique aspects of the study we did is that it provides an even stronger piece of evidence for there being a causal effect,” said [Marc] Weisskopf, an associate professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology at Harvard in Boston. “It’s really the pollution doing it.”

As you all may know, autism is diagnosed due to behavioral changes in kids as young as age 5. Recent research states autism may start due to certain brain cells failing to develop properly while babies evolve in their mother’s womb. Bloomberg further reveals:

Researchers focused on 1,767 children born from 1990 to 2002, including 245 diagnosed with autism. The design of the study and the results rule out many confounding measures that can create a bias, Weisskopf said. The researchers took into account socioeconomic factors that can influence exposure to pollution or play a role in whether a child is diagnosed with autism.

The fact that pollution caused problems only during pregnancy strengthened the findings, since it’s unlikely other factors would have changed markedly before or after those nine months, he said in a telephone interview.

Fortunately, there is still doubt about the study’s accuracy. Charis Eng, chairwoman of the Lerner Research Institute’s Genomic Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio says the root cause of autism still remains a mystery. As far as the accuracy of the manuscript is concerned, she said its findings aren’t definitive and its findings might be coincidental.

Since this study has been published that means it has been peer reviewed. Therefore, in theory, it is supposed to have been vetted by others in the field who are supposed to check the study’s conclusions and invalidate any incorrect assertions. In practice is another story. I have come to understand that science has become so hyper specialized that many fields of science publications have a small amount of scientists who can act as referees.

Meantime, like what environmentalists are doing with fracking and pesticides, this study can be used as one more arrow in their quiver to use to lobby for economic controls. The doubt raised by Charis Eng would not be enough to dissuade other political scientists to use it as a basis for other research pieces down the line that can make the news and then be used as a launching pad by green groups to lobby for more environmental controls.