Traffic Pollution Tied to Autism Risk – Reuters

In Nanjing, China, air pollution can be so bad that some residents choose to wear facemasks.

At Arlington Transportation Partners, my colleagues and I are constantly out talking to employers in the county about all the benefits associated with getting their employees to commute to work in ways that don’t involve driving alone.

One of the key factors that often changes a person’s mind about how to get to work is health. Sure, biking or walking to the job have obvious health benefits. But it’s often a stretch to get someone away from the seeming ease of jumping in the car into believing that the commute can be an active, near-sporting activity.

Nevertheless, a new study may offer yet another reason to get out of that car and at least try the subway, a bus, a carpool, a vanpool, or teleworking. As the study shows, sitting in all those traffic jams is bad for people in ways beyond simply the size of their waistlines.

The Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles found that “babies who are exposed to lots of traffic-related air pollution in the womb and during their first year of life are more likely to become autistic,” which follows on the heels of other studies that link risks of autism to how close children live to freeways.

According to a Reuters article about the research:

“Compared to 245 California children who were not autistic, the researchers found that 279 autistic children were almost twice as likely to have been exposed to the highest levels of pollution while in the womb, and about three times as likely to have been exposed to that level during their first year of life.

They found that children exposed to the highest amount of ‘particulate matter’ – a mixture of acids, metals, soil and dust – had about a two-fold increase in autism risk. That type of regional pollution is tracked by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“[The researchers] also saw a similar link between autism and nitrogen dioxide, which is in car, truck, and other vehicle emissions. They said certain pollutants could play a role in brain development – but that doesn’t prove being exposed to air pollution makes kids autistic. They warned that there may be other factors that explain the association, including indoor pollution and second-hand smoke exposure.”

This is just another of many examples of how the way we choose to get around can play such an important role in our lives and in the health of large segments of our towns.

So the next time you want to jump in your car, think about ways you can help improve the health of your neighborhood. If you can’t bike, walk, or take public transportation, consider other options, such as turning off your car while you wait for your children after school. One day, somebody’s mother may just thank you.

Photo by Let Ideas Compete

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