A recent study by Environment experts has warned that the exposure to outdoor pollution such as vehicle exhausts, and industrial emissions can increase a child’s risk of developing autism spectrum disorder by up to 78 per cent.
The research followed children in Shanghai from birth to three years to understand the effect of exposure to fine particles (PM2.5). The study included 124 ASD children and 1,240 healthy children in stages over a nine-year period, examining the association between air pollution and ASD.
The study, published in the journal Environment International, is first to examine the effects of long-term exposure of air pollution on ASD during the early life of children in a developing country. Some previous studies have already linked prenatal air pollution exposure to ASD in children.
The smaller the airborne particles, the more capable they are of penetrating the lungs and entering the bloodstream causing a range of serious health conditions. PM1 is the smallest in particle size but few studies have been done on PM1 globally and agencies are yet to set safety standards for it.
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Zhiling Guo, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said: “The causes of autism are complex and not fully understood, but environmental factors are increasingly recognised in addition to genetic and other factors”.
“The developing brains of young children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures in the environment and several studies have suggested this could impact brain function and the immune system,” Guo Added.
“These effects could explain the strong link we found between exposure to air pollutants and ASD, but further research is needed to explore the associations between air pollution and mental health more broadly,” he said.
Air pollution is a major public concern and is estimated to cause up to 4.2 million deaths (WHO) every year globally. Outdoor pollutants contribute to a high burden of disease and premature deaths in countries including China and India, especially in densely populated areas.
The study examined the health effects of three types of particulate matter (PM1, PM2.5, PM10) — fine airborne particles that are the byproducts of emissions from factories, vehicular pollution, construction activities and road dust.