LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) —  Scientists have already found that living near a freeway can put children at a greater risk of developing autism and a new University of Southern California study may explain why.

Researchers now say they have evidence that links autism with breathing air pollution.

The study by USC’s Keck School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles found that high levels of pollution may affect brain development in children.

“We do think in our study that we may have identified a risk factor which may contribute to autism,” said Dr. Heather Volk, an assistant professor at the Keck School and co-author of the study.

“In terms of limiting air pollution exposure, right now, that’s very difficult, because we’re at the early stages of examining this relationship and understanding the underlying biology which may be apparent between air pollution exposure and autism,” Volk said.

The study sampled more than 500 children in San Francisco, Sacramento and L.A., factoring addresses and pollutant exposure during each trimester of pregnancy and during the first year of life.

Two years ago, Volk’s research showed expectant mothers who lived near freeways had an increased risk in having children with autism.

The new study showed that exposure to pollution is associated with a two-fold higher risk of autism, even if the mother doesn’t live near vehicular traffic.

Researchers said the risk factors were nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.

“I do live next to a freeway and was very interested in this study,” said Burbank resident Kameena Ballard-Dawkins, who has a 10-year-old daughter with autism. “The parents should be in touch with a lot of studies and continue their research, so that we can have more conclusive findings for the future, as well.”

Scientists have reported that several factors, including genetic and environmental, are associated with autism. This study may bring them closer to identifying the environmental conditions that elevate a child’s chances of developing the disorder.


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