Air Quality May Affect Infants’ Brains

Reference: The ASHA Leader (a publication from the American Speech and hearing Association) February, 2013

Research demonstrates that polluted air-whether regional pollution or from local traffic sources-is associated with autism, according to a study published online in November 2012 by Archives of General Psychiatry ( 

The study, conducted by University of Southern California and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles scientists, included 279 children with autism and 245 children with typical development.  The results suggest that exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy and the first year of life is associated with a more than two-fold risk of autism.  In addition, exposure to regional pollution consisting of nitrogen dioxide and small particles is also associated with autism even if the mother did not live near a busy road.

The research is the first to look at the amount of exposure to near roadway traffic pollution and to combine that with measures of regional air quality.  The study builds on previous research that examined how close participants lived to a freeway.  The researchers are now working on a study of how genes related to autism may be affected by environmental exposures to determine if certain factors make people genetically more vulnerable to particular pollutants.