Background and objective Genetic and environmental factors have been recognized to play an important role in autism. The possibility that exposure to outdoor air pollution increases the risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been an emerging area of research. Herein, we present a systematic review, and meta-analysis of published epidemiological studies that have investigated these associations. Methods We undertook a comprehensive search strategy to identify studies that investigated outdoor air pollution and autism in children. Overall, seven cohorts and five case-control studies met our inclusion criteria for the meta-analysis. We summarized the associations between exposure to air pollution and ASD based on the following critical exposure windows: (i) first, second and third trimester of pregnancy, (ii) entire pregnancy, and (iii) postnatal period. Random effects meta-analysis modeling was undertaken to derive pooled risk estimates for these exposures across the studies. Results The meta-estimates for the change in ASD associated with a 10 μg/m3 increase in exposure in PM2.5 and 10 ppb increase in NO2 during pregnancy were 1.34 (95% CI:0.83, 2.17) and 1.05 (95% CI:0.99, 1.11), respectively. Stronger associations were observed for exposures received after birth, but these estimates were unstable as they were based on only two studies. O3 exposure was weakly associated with ASD during the third trimester of pregnancy and during the entire pregnancy, however, these estimates were also based on only two studies. Conclusion Our meta-analysis support the hypothesis that exposure to ambient air pollution is associated with an increased risk of autism. Our findings should be interpreted cautiously due to relatively small number of studies, and several studies were unable to control for other key risk factors.

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Keywords Air pollution, Autism spectrum disorder, Fine particulate matter, Meta-analysis, Review
Persistent URL
Journal Environmental Research
Flores-Pajot, M.-C. (Marie-Claire), Ofner, M. (Marianna), Do, M.T. (Minh T.), Lavigne, E. (Eric), & Villeneuve, P. (2016). Childhood autism spectrum disorders and exposure to nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter air pollution: A review and meta-analysis. Environmental Research (Vol. 151, pp. 763–776). doi:10.1016/j.envres.2016.07.030