SALT LAKE CITY - A new study by researchers at USC and the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles found that polluted air is associated with autism.
Their study found that exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy and the first year of life is associated with more than twice the risk of autism.
The Centers for Disease Control say Utah has the highest rate of autism in the nation with one in 47 children diagnosed with autism, compared to one in 88 nationwide. Utah also has some of the worst air in the nation for part of the year, particularly in winter.
Mirrelle Peterson, who runs the Utah Autism Coalition, is the parent of an autistic child and has been deeply involved with efforts to find both a cure and causes of the condition.
She says the possibility of air pollution being associated with autism is one that has been question for awhile.
"Air quality has been in question for quite some time, particularly pertinent to Utah as rates were released in May this year that Utah has the highest rate in the nation," Peterson said.
New Jersey has the second highest rate of autism in the nation with one in 49 children diagnosed. To Peterson, that rate is more than a coincidence.
"It's hard to come up with a lot of similarities other than the air quality is poor, notoriously poor in both locations," she said.
The researchers involved in the new USC study said an interesting component of their research is the effect of mothers' and children's exposure to fine and coarse pollution particles, both 10 and 2.5 microns in diameter.
They noted both types of particles are bound together by many chemicals and that the components of those particles can be hazardous to the brain.
The study was published in the "Archives of General Psychiatry," a sister publication of the "The Journal of the American Medical Association."