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In Southwestern Pennsylvania, Air Pollution Associated with Autism

By | December 3, 2015

Many expectant mothers know not to eat tuna fish while pregnant because of mercury and other pollutants. But what happens if the harmful substances are in the air they breathe?

A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health explores the relationship between children born with autism and their mothers’ exposure to air pollution during pregnancy. And it might be worth a closer look — especially if you live in areas with high air pollution and have a baby on the way. Pennsylvania is already an expensive state in which to have a baby, but for the expectant parents in southwestern PA, where pollution is severe, it may be even more expensive to raise a child. While several studies in recent years have linked pollution exposure to autism, according to Autism Speaks, the Pitt study was the first to home in specifically on southwestern Pennsylvania, a heavily industrialized area.

Tracing Possible Causes of Autism

Although we know the effects of autism, we still don’t know much about what causes autism. According to the National Institutes of Health, autism affects 1 in 88 children in the United States. The disorder impacts communication and behavior, and signs usually appear during early childhood or even infancy.

Autism has been linked to a number of genetic and environmental factors, but because we still have no definitive answers, researchers are rigorously investigating any possible connections between the disease and a multitude of factors. The University of Pittsburgh scientists are exploring one location using the knowledge from previous research, most notably a 2014 Harvard study that showed exposure to certain air pollution during the third trimester of pregnancy increases a child’s chance of having autism.

To investigate the relationship between air pollution and autism, the Pittsburgh study analyzed data from 217 families with autistic children and compared it to two groups of families without autistic children, whose mothers all lived in Southwestern Pennsylvania at the time of pregnancy.

The results showed that mothers had an increased chance of having an autistic child after exposure to chromium and styrene. Chromium can get into the water and air from nearby coal, steel, leather, or textile manufacturing. Styrene is often found in building material fumes, car exhaust, and tobacco smoke. More research needs to be done to figure out whether it’s a specific combination or high concentration of these pollutants, or if any other chemicals play a factor in causing this disorder.

Expertise is Everything

The relationship between lifestyle, environment during pregnancy, and autism grows more complex as scientists learn more about it. Keep in mind, though: there’s a lot more research to be done before making any definite statements about the causes of autism. That’s why it’s so important for conscientious new parents to find the most knowledgeable, competent obstetricians and pediatricians available to help them make well-informed decisions during their pregnancy.

With SingleCare, southwestern Pennsylvania’s parents-to-be can access a wide network of excellent medical professionals that might otherwise be out of reach. SingleCare isn’t just flexible — it’s also affordable. Anyone can join for free, both to supplement an existing insurance plan or as a means to gain access to high-quality providers without insurance. With SingleCare, you know the cost of care up front, which is often discounted up to 50%. With a baby on the way, having access to the best doctors and receiving the best care is vitally important for the whole family. And SingleCare can help you find that care.

(Main image credit: michal kodym/Thinkstock)