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Autism & Pollution

June 17, 2014

Air pollution may play a role in autism.



Pollution and autism. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Rates of autism have gone up in recent decades, and according to a new study appearing in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, a type of pollution called ultrafine particles may be one reason. Debra Cory-Slechta at the University of Rochester Medical Center explains that the tiny particles get into the bloodstream and the brain. In lab mice, that led to brain abnormalities similar to those seen in human autism and schizophrenia.

DEBRA COREY-SLECHTA (University of Rochester Medical Center):

While both of those have significant genetic components, there’s a lot of unexplained autism and schizophrenia and that’s where environment has come in. So we see air pollution as sort of adding to the attributable risk, if you will.


Ultrafine particles aren’t currently regulated by the EPA; primary sources are cars, power plants and cigarettes. The finding could point to new ways to reduce cases of autism and new avenues for treatment. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.