There’s more evidence that autism in children is linked to toxic exposures by pregnant mothers and developing infants—most recently exposure to air pollutants from traffic. A study published last month by the Archives of General Psychiatry found that children with autism “were more more likely to live at residences that had the highest quartile of exposure to traffic-related air pollution, during gestation..and during the first year of life…compared with control children.” Participants came from California and researchers matched mothers’ addresses from birth certificates as well as questionnaires about residences with air pollution data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine exposure amounts. Air pollutants to which mothers and babies were exposed included nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, small toxic particles in the air near roadways that can lodge in the lungs and enter the bloodstream.
Children exposed to the highest levels of particulate matter in the study had about a two-fold risk of autism. There was a similar link found between nitrogen dioxide exposure and autism. “This is a risk factor that we can modify and potentially reduce the risk for autism,” wrote Geraldine Dawson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in an email to Reuters Health.
Evidence continues to mount that exposure to chemicals and air pollutants carries adverse outcomes for infants, including an increased risk for autism. The latest study looking at the impacts of bisphenol A (BPA) in rhesus monkeys found that when monkeys were given regular doses of BPA that mimic human exposure that it had profound reproductive impacts. BPA—a hormone-disrupting chemical used in hard plastics—has been banned from baby bottles and sippy cups but not from other plastic food containers, nor from the linings of soup and beverage cans or cash register receipts. As such, Americans are exposed almost daily to BPA, which is inadvertently ingested or absorbed in the course of eating and drinking canned food and drinks or—in the case of receipts—shopping.
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicates that 92.6% of Americans over the age of six have detectable levels of BPA in their urine. The latest study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August 2012, found that when monkeys were similarly exposed to BPA it impacted the egg development of their offspring. In other words, monkeys born to BPA-affected mothers would later be at greater risk for having miscarriages or babies born with Down Syndrome.
“The really stunning thing about the effect is we’re dosing grandma,” said Patricia Hunt, Ph.D., a geneticist and professor of molecular biosciences at Washington State University and one of the researchers involved with the study. “It’s crossing the placenta and hitting her developing fetus, and if that fetus is a female, it’s changing the likelihood that that female is going to ovulate normal eggs.”
As many as 10% of children with Down Syndrome also have autism. And there was another impact of this BPA exposure—it changed the way eggs were packaged in the follicles of offspring, lessening the offspring’s available eggs and essentially shortening her reproductive lifespan.
The Vitamin D Connection
Another study published this past August points to the critical role played by vitamin D in rising autism diagnoses. Continue reading
Building on the momentum of “stroller brigades” across the country and the Safer States coalition uniting behind reforming the nation’s chemical legislation, the Safe Chemicals Act has finally emerged from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Some 28 states are considering toxics legislation this year, as awareness about the threats of hormone-disrupting chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) and flame retardants have gained prominence. But this is the first time that a national act to update the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) has made it out of committee. When it passed, TSCA grandfathered in about 61,000 chemicals that were then in U.S. commerce. Now, there are about 82,000. According to a 2009 report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken measures to restrict production of just five chemicals under TSCA. It has only required testing of 200 chemicals.
A new study found that among hundreds of samples of amniotic fluid collected in the 1980s and 1990s, nearly all contained three contaminants of concern. The study underscores the widespread nature of fetal exposure to these compounds—two types of phthalates and the stain-resisting chemical PFOs—and the need for greater understanding of the long-term health impacts of these exposures. The study is unique for focusing directly on amniotic fluid, and is the first to measure PFOs in fetal liquid.
The phthalates found were DEHP and DiNP, which both function as softeners for plastic and are found in everything from medical tubing to plastic toys to shower curtains and vinyl flooring. Exposure can happen when people eat foods cooked in plastic, touch products or breathe air containing phthalates present in household dust. These phthalates leave the body in less than a day once exposure happens, suggesting that such exposure happens on a regular basis.
So having a new baby who will soon be moving into a crib at night prompted me to go on a search for a “green” crib mattress. In particular, I was looking for one made with organic materials and one that does not contain dangerous flame retardants. It was a frustrating expedition around Internet land, particularly because there are many companies eager to cash in on parent’s concerns who will slap an “eco” on their product when it contains petroleum products. The Sealy Soybean crib mattress, for example, wants you to think it is made of pure U.S.-grown soybeans, when it is in fact comprised of “soy-enhanced polyurethane foam,” that disappointed customers have described as reeking of plastic.
I hate that companies are looking to exploit parents’ concerns with green marketing and I have been led, again and again, to seek out small, independently owned companies whose practices and materials I can trust. In this case, I’m opting for CozyPure, a company that literally makes each crib-to-toddler mattress by hand when you order it. It is made simply of natural latex and organic cotton and if it is anything like their incredible pillows, it is bound to provide heavenly sleep for our little one (and for me, who won’t have to worry that by opting for a green knock-off I subjected her developing brain and body to the steady inhalation of endocrine-disrupting chemicals like flame retardants and phthalates.)
Narrowing the definition of autism won’t diminish its challenges or alter the fact that an extraordinary number of children are being born with difficulties in communicating and socializing and prone to repetitive behaviors. It will, however, make finding and affording support services more difficult for parents and provide some vindication to those who suspect that autism numbers have more to do with increased diagnosis than environmental toxins. And most unfortunate, it comes at a time when environmental causes for autism are finally being taken seriously.
In 2010, when creating a new draft of the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, researchers decided Asperger’s Syndrome, or high-functioning autism, belonged in the autism category. While the distinctions between high-functioning autism and severe autism can be profound—the former can function independently and may display genius-level intellects, the latter may require assistance for the most basic daily tasks—the underlying obstacles are the same. Whether self-sufficient or wholly dependent, these individuals have difficulties related to social interaction and communication in addition to a host of other potential signifiers, from repeating daily tasks, to lining up objects, to obsessive interest in a single subject, to hand flapping.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) defined it best. But as the new D.S.M. nears completion, Asperger’s and autism appear likely to be teased apart. Continue reading
This is not me. Thanks, Wikipedia!
March is a big month for me. Not only because it marks the release of The Autism Puzzle after much work and recalibrating of endnotes, but because March 30 is the date I’m having my second daughter. That is, of course, unless nature intervenes. Unlike my first birth experience, which ended (as it does for so many women) in an emergency C-section, this is to be a planned C-section. It’s just one of many concerns that cloud me in this final month, brought on in large part by issues I raise in the book.
The problem, really, is that so much is left unknown when it comes to chemical interactions while a baby is in utero and being born. Without further ado, here are some of the things I have done or will do that could pose some cause for concern regarding the baby’s development based on research directly related to the book.
- Ate tuna fish. I had planned to eat no tuna, or to replace it with canned salmon which is a very legitimate substitute and sold at Trader Joe’s, but delis and salad bars don’t have salmon salad, and I really like tuna, so I caved. But not more than once a week! But still… tuna is one of the major sources of mercury today (well, coal-burning power plants are the source, our tainted fish are the unfortunate side effect) and that mercury is easily passed to infants via cord blood. Mercury is known to impact brain development and autism and mercury poisoning share a lot of unsettling similarities.
- Microwaved soup in plastic. This only happened once when our office bowls went mysteriously missing and the alternative was eating cold soup. Plastic containers often contain phthalates and bisphenol A, endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are much more likely to come loose from plastic and enter foods when heated. Even small amounts of phthalates–in amounts below what is typically found in one-quarter of the female population–have been shown to impact male reproductive development in rat studies and both BPA and phthalate exposure during pregnancy have been tied to later autism-like social impairments in children.
Posted in BPA, Mercury, Phthalates, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Safe Chemicals Act
Tagged autism, bpa, c-section, childbirth, mercury, oxytocin, phthalates, pitocin, pregnancy, thm, tuna
Researcher Claudia S. Miller is drawing connections between shared chemical sensitivities in the parents of children with autism and their autistic children. She writes that the same chemicals (pesticides, medications, foods) that may be giving rise to a host of reactions in adults may be impacting the neurodevelopment of their children while in the womb, a case where “genes load the gun and environment pulls the trigger.” The form of chemical intolerance in question is called Toxicant-Induced loss of Tolerance of TILT, which she writes “may develop after a workplace exposure or remodeling of a home or exposure to petrochemicals or combustion products from a fire. Thereafter, everyday exposures to common chemicals, foods, medications, and even caffeine, can trigger cognitive and mood difficulties, as well as a host of baffling symptoms that can affect the nervous system, digestive tract, airways, and skin.” These symptoms can include Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, asthma and seizures.
Researchers found an unsettling link between mothers taking antidepressants both pre-pregnancy and during the first trimester and their likelihood of giving birth to a child with autism. The findings involved the most popular class of antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which includes the drugs Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, Paxil and Lexapro. Mothers who took these antidepressants in the year before pregnancy had a two-fold risk for giving birth to a child with autism; Mothers taking the drugs during the first trimester had a four-fold risk. The study came from the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in California and was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. A mother’s mental health history, absent the antidepressants, had no apparent impact on autism risk.
The 10-year anniversary of 9/11 is nearly upon us, and many questions remain about the lingering health impacts caused by the massive destruction of the World Trade Center towers that day and the burning debris and toxin-filled air left behind. One study by the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health published last year looked specifically at the impact of elevated flame retardants or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) on children born to mothers at one of three hospitals in lower Manhattan following the attack. Hundreds of mothers who were pregnant on 9/11 and lived nearby the site were looked at: Their cord blood samples were analyzed for concentrations of flame retardants and their children were assessed for neurodevelopmental impacts at ages 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 years of age. None of the mothers were smokers, drug users or had other outstanding health issues, and researchers controlled for factors such as maternal IQ, breastfeeding and other toxic exposures. The impacts of PBDE concentrations on their children’s later development were unmistakeable.