Autism is a disorder characterized by delays or challenges with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Though the causes of autism have been generally inconclusive, environmental exposures during the pregnancy have long been under scrutiny as a potential cause. In recent years, multiple studies have confirmed a link between heavy metal pollution and autism.
Studies on Heavy Metal Pollution and Autism
According to Harvard University’s School of Public Health, prenatal exposure to the highest levels of pollution containing lead, diesel fumes, mercury, manganese, and methylene chloride was significantly tied to autism spectrum disorder in children. In fact, pregnant women living in areas with the highest overall measure of metal pollution were found to be twice as likely to have a child with autism than women in low-pollution areas. The study, published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, also notes that autism associations with various pollutants were much more significant in boys (279 cases) than in girls (46 cases).
Another study, published in the journal Metabolic Brain Disease, also confirmed the significant role mercury pollution plays in the onset of autism. A team of leading Egyptian scientists found a strong relationship between mercury toxicity and autism. Furthermore, the researchers found a direct correlation between levels of mercury poisoning and the severity of autism-related symptoms. The study included 100 children as subjects and showed that children with the highest levels of mercury toxicity also had the most severe autism symptoms.
Other Health Risks
With this, these studies add to the existing body of research that links environmental pollution to many health risks. In addition to heavy metal pollution and autism being connected, exposure to high levels of diesel fumes and mercury can lead to cardiovascular disease, asthma, and cancer. The World Health Organization has even classified diesel exhaust as a class I carcinogen, putting it in the same category as cigarettes for its cancer-causing effects.
Over the years, research has established that high exposure to diesel fumes and mercury is detrimental to a person’s health in multiple ways. With evidence of the connection between heavy metal pollution and autism, these studies have laid the foundation for research on this subject to expand in greater detail with a larger sample size that spans across different parts of the world.