Monday, June 13, 2011

Autism and Environmental Pollution: Review Shows Serious Study Needed

Judith Pinborough-Zimmerman, research assistant professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Psychiatry,  has called for more serious study of links between toxic pollution and autism spectrum disorders after a  preliminary review showed that children with autism spectrum disorders and other intellectual disabilities are more likely to have been born near industries that emit toxic chemicals or heavy metals. As reported by Heather May of Utah News the researchers found that children of mothers living within a mile of "Toxic Release Inventory" sites were were more likely to have autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disabilities:

"They found that children born to mothers who lived within a mile of what are called Toxic Release Inventory sites that emit certain chemicals and heavy metals were more likely to have those problems. TRI facilities release or dispose toxic chemicals regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA maintains a database of all such facilities and the type and amount of chemicals they release.

• The risk of having an autism spectrum disorder was 3.5 times greater for children born within a mile of a site releasing between 5,000 and 10,000 pounds of halogenated chemicals (dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls and trichloroethylene). There were five such TRI sites emitting at those levels in the mid-1990s.

• The risk of having an autism spectrum disorder was twice as big when living within a mile of one of six TRI sites emitting up to 5,000 pounds of the heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, lead, nickel and mercury."

To this lay person a finding that risk of autism spectrum disorders arises by 2 to 3.5 times with children born of mothers living near one of these pollution sites seems to be a very strong indicator of the need for further "serious" study as indicated by Assistant Professor Pinborough-Zimmerman.   We can always cling to the unproven assumption that autism has a 100% genetic basis and keep finding excuses for why autism rates continue to climb for a purely genetic disorder.  Or we could actually try to find out what has been happening to our children.


Paul Whiteley said...

These are some interesting notions bearing in mind that this is the same group that reported that the administrative prevalence of autism is increasing in Utah (and has been for quite a few years) -

Shannon said...

I hope they go further with this. There has to be an environmental trigger. If ASD were only genetic, judging by the numbers, pretty much everyone would have autism.

Jeanne said...

Thank you for sharing - I always learn new and interesting things on your site! My son is autistic too. As for this study - I feeel that we should follow up on every clue, every idea and every "trail" that might possibly lead us to understand more about and the reason for autism - and hopefully a cure as well. We may eventually figure out that it IS in fact genetic - if that happens, then at least we know that we have checked out all other avenues regarding autism just in case it isn't genetics. OR we may eventually discover that it is not genetics. Either way - I say, let us not leave any stone unturned! Thanks again for your wonderful autism site/blog!