A group of researchers conducted a study on the impact of air pollution to autism. The study, which was performed in stages over a nine-year period in Shanghai, China, involved children with ages ranging from newborn to three years of age. The subjected children included 124 who already had autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and 1,240 healthy ones (as control)1. It was found that exposure to fine particles (PM2.5) from industrial emissions, vehicular exhausts, and other sources of outdoor pollution raises the risk of developing autism by up to 78 percent.

This study confirms earlier researches that air pollution is linked to autism. Similar studies even showed that pregnant women living close to major thoroughfares are twice likely to give birth to autistic children. The polluted air that these mothers breathe adversely affect the biochemical set-up of the DNA of their fetuses, which can eventually create a negative impact on their children’s physical and emotional wellbeing. In relation to this, it was also found that a baby’s constant exposure to unclean air during its first few months of life may lead to its delayed cognitive development.

Experts further expressed that children living in areas where vehicular traffic is high tend to fare poorly in intelligence examinations and suffer more emotional problems compared with children who breathe relatively fresher air. They pointed out that vehicle emissions carry hazardous chemicals that adversely affect growing fetuses as well as the mental functions of young children.

Some of the toxic air pollutants produced by vehicle exhaust fumes include:

Benzene (C6H6). This colorless, sweet-smelling chemical in car exhaust fumes can adversely affect anyone exposed to it. Short-term effects can lead to drowsiness, disorientation, loss of consciousness, and rapid pulse among other problems. Worse, if you are constantly exposed to this chemical, benzene may cause acute myeloid leukemia, severe anemia, or damage to your reproductive system.

Carbon monoxide (CO), is a toxic gas that stops the ability of your blood to deliver oxygen throughout the body, particularly to the heart and brain. Although it takes time before the carbon monoxide reaches critical levels to the fetus than it does to its mother, the unborn baby is still at risk of poisoning. The gas can seep into the placenta and penetrate into the blood, reducing the supply of oxygen. Likewise, in the event that the mother lost consciousness due to prolonged exposure to high levels of CO concentration, the fetus inside her womb runs a high risk of developing either short- or long-term health condition.

Nitrogen dioxide or nitrous dioxide (NO2). Even if your exposure to this gas is only at a minimal level or in low concentration, nitrogen dioxide may still harm your central nervous system, your heart, hematopoietic, hepatic, and reproductive systems. In worse cases, it can be an asphyxiant when it reaches high levels of concentration in your body.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2). When exposure is only for a brief period or short-term, this poisonous gas may cause sore throat, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. But a prolonged exposure may result in an alteration in the lung’s defenses, and respiratory disease. It may also worsen a heart problem.

These are just a few of many substances produced by the car exhaust fumes alone. Air pollutants from industrial sources are not even mentioned here. We all know that production in industries involved the use of varied chemicals.

Meanwhile, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 160 children is found to have autism. And as if the disorder is not enough, children with ASD are often subject to discrimination, human rights violations, and stigma. Access to services and support for these individuals is even inadequate.

These being said, it is imperative that we, the citizens of the world, should seriously work-hand-in-hand in helping solve the air pollution problem for the sake of the next generation.

1Monash University. Air Pollution Linked to Autism. November 5, 2018. Science Daily. Web Retrieved on June 19, 2019.