Particulate matter exposure, prenatal and postnatal windows of susceptibility, and autism spectrum disorders

Epidemiology. 2015 Jan;26(1):30-42. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000173.


Background: Recent studies suggest that exposure to traffic-related air pollutants, including particulate matter (PM), is associated with autism spectrum disorder (autism).

Methods: Children with autism were identified by records-based surveillance (n = 645 born in North Carolina in 1994, 1996, 1998, or 2000, and n = 334 born in the San Francisco Bay Area in California in 1996). They were compared with randomly sampled children born in the same counties and years identified from birth records (n = 12,434 in North Carolina and n = 2,232 in California). Exposure to PM less than 10 μm (PM10) at the birth address was assigned to each child by a geostatistical interpolation method using daily concentrations from air pollution regulatory monitors. We estimated odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for a 10 μg/m increase in PM10 within 3-month periods from preconception through the child's first birthday, adjusting for year, state, maternal education and age, race/ethnicity, and neighborhood-level urbanization and median household income, and including a nonparametric term for week of birth to account for seasonal trends.

Results: Temporal patterns in PM10 were pronounced, leading to an inverse correlation between the first- and third-trimester concentrations (r = -0.7). Adjusted ORs were, for the first trimester, 0.86 (95% CI = 0.74-0.99), second trimester, 0.97 (0.83-1.15), and third trimester, 1.36 (1.13-1.63); and, after simultaneously including first- and third-trimester concentrations to account for the inverse correlation, were: first trimester, 1.01 (0.81-1.27) and third trimester, 1.38 (1.03-1.84).

Conclusions: Our study adds to previous work in California showing a relation between traffic-related air pollution and autism, and adds similar findings in an eastern US state, with results consistent with increased susceptibility in the third-trimester.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • California / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / epidemiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Particulate Matter*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology*
  • Risk Factors


  • Particulate Matter