Pregnancy Environment and Early Life Matters: Prenatal Air Pollution and Childhood Autism

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Principal Investigator: Ondine von Ehrenstein

Prenatal influences are emerging as determinants of developmental disorders, such as autism, globally. Knowledge about specific environmental risks for autism remains scarce. Aims: To examine for the first time associations between prenatal exposures to measured air toxics and childhood autism. Methods: This analysis includes geocoded LA County births 1995-2006 whose mothers resided <5km from a monitoring station (n=132,323). Autism cases aged 36-71 months were identified through the California Department of Developmental Services and linked to their respective birth records. Air toxics’ measures (e.g., benzenes) were derived in the LA air basin and pregnancy period specific exposure estimates created. Patterns of exposure were examined using factor analysis, and associations between toxics and autism analyzed using regressions. Results: Prenatal exposure to several air toxics increased odds ratios (OR) for autism, including benzene [per interquartile-range increase] (OR: 1.46; 95%CI: 1.09, 1.95), 1,3-butadiene (1.57; 1.12, 2.19), and meta/para-xylene (1.56; 1.27, 1.92), adjusting for birth year, race/ethnicity, age, parity, gender, and insurance. Conclusions: These findings provide support for the urgent need of reduction of urban toxic air pollution exposures from traffic and industry, with a special focus on growing developing nations’ cities with pollutant concentrations magnitudes higher than in LA, and many millions of pregnant women exposed.