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Study finds link between autism and exposure to air pollution during pregnancy

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health have found that women exposed to high levels of air pollution in their third trimester of pregnancy could be twice as likely to have an autistic child.

The study, published Thursday in Environmental Health Perspectives, shows that the risk of autism rises parallel with exposure to fine particulate matter during pregnancy, Bloomberg reports. Autism is believed to affect 1 in 68 U.S. children, and while the cause is unknown, recent studies suggest that it could start when specific brain cells do not properly mature inside the womb.

Marc Weisskopf, a senior author of the study, said that it makes sense for there to be an inflammatory or immune system response when pollution reaches a fetus, and his team is currently investigating biological pathways. He recommends that pregnant women try to avoid exposure to fine particulate matter by not visiting cities with high pollution levels and by staying away from areas with a lot of traffic.