Environmental chemical exposures and autism spectrum disorders

a review of the epidemiological evidence

Amy E. Kalkbrenner, Rebecca Jean Schmidt, Annie C. Penlesky

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

97 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In the past decade, the number of epidemiological publications addressing environmental chemical exposures and autism has grown tremendously. These studies are important because it is now understood that environmental factors play a larger role in causing autism than previously thought and because they address modifiable risk factors that may open up avenues for the primary prevention of the disability associated with autism. In this review, we covered studies of autism and estimates of exposure to tobacco, air pollutants, volatile organic compounds and solvents, metals (from air, occupation, diet, dental amalgams, and thimerosal-containing vaccines), pesticides, and organic endocrine-disrupting compounds such as flame retardants, non-stick chemicals, phthalates, and bisphenol A. We included studies that had individual-level data on autism, exposure measures pertaining to pregnancy or the 1st year of life, valid comparison groups, control for confounders, and adequate sample sizes. Despite the inherent error in the measurement of many of these environmental exposures, which is likely to attenuate observed associations, some environmental exposures showed associations with autism, especially traffic-related air pollutants, some metals, and several pesticides, with suggestive trends for some volatile organic compounds (e.g., methylene chloride, trichloroethylene, and styrene) and phthalates. Whether any of these play a causal role requires further study. Given the limited scope of these publications, other environmental chemicals cannot be ruled out, but have not yet been adequately studied. Future research that addresses these and additional environmental chemicals, including their most common routes of exposures, with accurate exposure measurement pertaining to several developmental windows, is essential to guide efforts for the prevention of the neurodevelopmental damage that manifests in autism symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-318
Number of pages42
JournalCurrent Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care
Volume44
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

Fingerprint

Environmental Exposure
Autistic Disorder
Volatile Organic Compounds
Air Pollutants
Pesticides
Publications
Metals
Flame Retardants
Dental Amalgam
Thimerosal
Trichloroethylene
Styrene
Methylene Chloride
Primary Prevention
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Occupations
Sample Size
Tobacco
Vaccines
Air

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health

Cite this

Environmental chemical exposures and autism spectrum disorders : a review of the epidemiological evidence. / Kalkbrenner, Amy E.; Schmidt, Rebecca Jean; Penlesky, Annie C.

In: Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care, Vol. 44, No. 10, 01.11.2014, p. 277-318.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

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