Air pollution may be linked to risk of autism

Air pollution may be linked to risk of autism

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by KGW reporter Erica Heartquist

Bio | Email | Follow: @EricaHeartquist

kgw.com

Posted on June 19, 2013 at 6:54 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 19 at 6:54 AM

PORTLAND -- Research out Tuesday has a lot of people talking about risks during pregnancy.

It found air pollution may increase the chances of a woman's unborn child eventually developing autism.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health looked at more than 100,000 pregnant women to determine their levels of exposure to air pollution.

Beaverton mom, April Bijak, has two boys with autism. She has one son that doesn't.

"I think it's only part of the answer, but I think there's a much bigger issue at hand," she said.

The researchers found that women who lived in the areas with the highest levels of diesel or mercury air pollution were two times more likely to have a child with autism, compared with children of moms who lived in areas with lower levels.

"That's why autism is a puzzle. There's so many different varying factors of what could be causing this," said Bijak.

Doctor Dena Ross is a pediatrician with Legacy Emanuel Children's Clinic. She points out that it is a preliminary study.

"We don't have any proof one way or the other that this currently would have an impact," she said.

But Ross said it is important to at least talk about.

"As a pediatrician, I absolutely support intervention that cut down on kids' exposure to tobacco smoke or diesel pollution in the air; all the things that we know are bad for children after they're born as well," she said.

How is our air here in the Portland area? The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said there are many different pollutants in Portland's air and what we breathe depends on how close we are to pollution sources, such as busy roads and industrial facilities.

It is concerned about pollutants called air toxics, like diesel soot, which can cause serious health problems.

"If you have concerns, absolutely, ask your doctor. That's a huge thing that you can do. Ask them 'what can I do to ensure that I have a healthy pregnancy?' " said Ross.

The link between pollution and autism was stronger in boys than girls and the researchers pointed out that autism is about five times more common in boys than girls.

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