Autism, Air Pollution, and Power Plants

Autism, Air Pollution, and Power Plants

Comments by Ken Dolsky to the Bergen County Freeholders, April 17, 2019

An article in the April 12, 2019 edition of the Star-Ledger reported on the results of a new study showing a 43% jump in autism among 4-year olds in NJ.  The article stated. “The rate of 4-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in New Jersey rose by 43 percent over four years, according to a report released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”  In New Jersey, the rate of autism is now 1 in 35 among 4-year-olds.  This is the highest rate of autism among all states studied and it is expected to increase in coming years.  This increase appears to reflect actual growth in the rate of children with autism, not only more diagnoses.  In addition, the study was based on birth record data, which eliminated the possibility that the increase in New Jersey was due to people coming from other states to access services here.

While the causes of autism may be many and are not well understood, a 2015 article on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) web site (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4737505/) cites evidence that air pollution is a serious contender for being a contributing factor to autism.  The article states, “In the last decade, several studies have examined the association between perinatal exposure to ambient air pollution and the risk of ASD. These studies have largely been consistent with associations seen with different aspects of air pollution, including hazardous air toxics, ozone, particulate and traffic-related pollution. Two recent studies of air pollution and ASD present findings that strongly argue against residual confounding (the existence of multiple elements that can potentially cause the studied effect), especially for factors that do not vary over relatively short time intervals. These two studies, conducted in communities around the US, found a specific association with air pollution exposure during the third, but not the first, trimester, when both trimesters were modeled simultaneously. Given the general consistency of findings across studies and the exposure-window-specific associations recently reported, the overall evidence for a causal association between air pollution and ASD is increasingly compelling.

Freeholders, your constituents are counting on you to protect them, not sitting idle while new sources of this heart-rending disorder are being added to their environment.  Please put a resolution opposing the Meadowlands power plant on your agenda.

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