Yesterday, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives looked at associations between levels of pollutants pregnant women are exposed to considering the time and place of exposure. They suggest that women who were exposed to the highest levels of diesel or mercury were twice as likely to have a child with autism compared to those who lived in the cleanest areas. Other types of air pollution, such as lead, manganese and other hard metals, were also linked to a greater risk of autism, though not as high as diesel or mercury. All are known neurotoxins. Much more work needs to be done to determine which pollutants are most damaging and then help people make choices about their living situations. Not surprisingly, people most affected are going to be in lower income brackets, living close to freeways. And we also know that farm workers and those living downstream or downwind of farming areas have an increased risk as well.
With the huge increase in autism numbers, there is a tendency to dismiss the tsunami of people coming our way and write it off to better diagnosis. But at some point, we have to look at the environment and how toxins have dramatically increased over the last 30 - 40 years. It is my contention that along with a genetic susceptibility, the environment exposure is huge.
The availability of pharmaceuticals has become very commonplace. I don't think people realize that each person's consumption of drugs affects us all, as everything we consume ends up in the water system. Also, the ubiquity of birth control pills, hormone therapies, in-vitro fertilizations, steroids make all seem benign. But what are the consequences of all these pollutants, contaminants, pharmaceuticals or whatever we call them? It reminds me of a TV commercial in the 70s with the tag line being, "It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature!" And that is so true. We may all be reaping the results of our increased technology and maybe the results aren't so wonderful after all.
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