Epidemiologic studies have reported associations between prenatal and early postnatal air pollution exposure and autism spectrum disorder (ASD); however, findings differ by pollutant and developmental window.
We examined associations between early life exposure to particulate matter ≤2.5 µm in diameter (PM2.5) and ozone in association with ASD across multiple US regions.
Our study participants included 674 children with confirmed ASD and 855 population controls from the Study to Explore Early Development, a multi-site case–control study of children born from 2003 to 2006 in the United States. We used a satellite-based model to assign air pollutant exposure averages during several critical periods of neurodevelopment: 3 months before pregnancy; each trimester of pregnancy; the entire pregnancy; and the first year of life. Logistic regression was used to estimate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs), adjusting for study site, maternal age, maternal education, maternal race/ethnicity, maternal smoking, and month and year of birth.
The air pollution–ASD associations appeared to vary by exposure time period. Ozone exposure during the third trimester was associated with ASD, with an OR of 1.2 (95% CI: 1.1, 1.4) per 6.6 ppb increase in ozone. We additionally observed a positive association with PM2.5 exposure during the first year of life (OR = 1.3 [95% CI: 1.0, 1.6] per 1.6 µg/m3 increase in PM2.5).
Our study corroborates previous findings of a positive association between early life air pollution exposure and ASD, and identifies a potential critical window of exposure during the late prenatal and early postnatal periods.