Residential Proximity to Freeways and Autism in the CHARGE Study

Environmental Health Perspectives, published online 16 December 2010

Heather E. Volk, Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Lora Delwiche, Fred Lurmann, and Rob McConnell

“Background: Little is known about environmental causes and contributing factors for autism. Basic science and epidemiological research suggest that oxidative stress and inflammation may play a role in disease development. Traffic-related air pollution, a common exposure with established effects on these pathways, contains substances found to have adverse prenatal effects.

“Objectives: To examine the association between autism and residence proximity, during pregnancy and near the time of delivery, to freeways and major roadways as a surrogate for air pollution exposure.

“Methods: Data were from 304 autism cases and 259 typically developing controls enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study. The mother’s address recorded on the birth certificate and trimester specific addresses derived from a residential history obtained by questionnaire were geo-coded and measures of distance to freeways and major roads were calculated using ArcGIS software. Logistic regression models compared residential proximity to freeways and major roads for autism cases and typically developing controls.

“Results: Adjusting for sociodemographic factors and maternal smoking, maternal residence at the time of delivery was more likely be near a freeway (≤309 meters) for cases, as compared to controls (odds ratio (OR), 1.86, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.04-3.45). Autism was also associated with residential proximity to a freeway during the third trimester (OR, 2.22, CI, 1.16-4.42). After adjustment for socio-economic and demographic characteristics, these associations were unchanged. Living near other major roads at birth was not associated with autism.

“Conclusions: Living near a freeway was associated with autism. Examination of associations with measured air pollutants is needed.”

One thought on “Residential Proximity to Freeways and Autism in the CHARGE Study

  1. After looking at the full description of this study I feel that there are major problems with the stated conclusions. Why would anyone assume that the spatiotemporal distribution of freeway emissions is the same on both sides of the road? Do the words “upwind” and “downwind” have no relevance to the project design? It would appear that no attention was paid to the spatiotemporal dispersion patterns of the emissions despite a very substantial amount of modeling of such situations that has been done over the years.

Comments are closed.