Autism Risk Correlated to Polluter Proximity
> 4/30/2008 2:25:23 PM

The scientific investigation into the cause of autism is surrounded by a highly emotional debate. Many parents, impatient to find an explanation for their childs problems, blame vaccines, especially those that use mercury preservatives. While vaccine fears have been discredited by the preponderance of the evidence, it remains plausible that environmental factors like mercury, which can greatly damage a developing fetus, can raise the risk of autism. In a recent study of school districts in Texas, published in Health & Place, Dr. Raymond Palmer found a strong correlation between distance from a polluter and rates of autism.

Dr. Palmer collated 1998 to 2002 records from the Texas Educational Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency, focusing on the mercury released by factories and power-plants. The most obvious correlation that popped out was that for every 1000 pounds of mercury from factories and from power plants, there was a 2.6% and 3.7% increase respectively in autism. The 1% difference may reflect an increased danger from different ways of dispersing mercury, but this is of secondary importance because what comes across clearly is that mercury pollution seems to carry a great risk for developing brains.

An even more interesting correlation was discovered when Dr. Palmer mapped the distances between school districts and polluters. He found that for every 10 miles from a factory or power-plant, autism risk fell by 2.0% and 1.4% respectively. As air and water borne pollutants are diluted by distance, these falling numbers are evidence that the environment during pregnancy can derail normal development. However, this evidence must be used cautiously, because there are many possible confounding factors. For example, Dr.Palmer did not take into account the possibility that other demographic factors change with proximity to polluters. It is likely that neighborhoods nearer to factories are more heavily populated by parents in the lower economic classes.

Parents in Texas certainly should not panic over these preliminary findings. There are many ways that they can be interpreted, but at a minimum they indicate that further research on the matter is called for. We have covered other research, such as a study that linked autism rates in California to pesticides, and the case that autism can be triggered or exacerbated by environmental factors is small but growing.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy