Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 137–150 | Cite as

Association Between Air Pollution Exposure, Cognitive and Adaptive Function, and ASD Severity Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Tara Kerin
  • Heather VolkEmail author
  • Weiyan Li
  • Fred Lurmann
  • Sandrah Eckel
  • Rob McConnell
  • Irva Hertz-Picciotto
Original Paper


Prenatal exposure to air pollution has been associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) risk but no study has examined associations with ASD severity or functioning. Cognitive ability, adaptive functioning, and ASD severity were assessed in 327 children with ASD from the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment study using the Mullen Scales of Early Learning (MSEL), the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS), and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule calibrated severity score. Estimates of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), ozone, and near-roadway air pollution were assigned to each trimester of pregnancy and first year of life. Increasing prenatal and first year NO2 exposures were associated with decreased MSEL and VABS scores. Increasing PM10 exposure in the third trimester was paradoxically associated with improved performance on the VABS. ASD severity was not associated with air pollution exposure.


Autism spectrum disorder Air pollution Vineland adaptive behavioral scale Mullen scales of early learning Cognitive impairments 



This study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (ES013678, ES019002, ES015359, ES11269), the National Institute of Mental Health (MH073124), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD079125), and the Environmental Protection Agency (829388, 833292).

Author Contributions

TK made substantial contributions to study conception and design, analysis and interpretation of data, drafting the article, revising the article critically for important intellectual content, and gave final approval of the version to be published. HV and RM made substantial contributions to study conception and design, interpretation of data, revising the article critically for important intellectual content, and gave final approval of the version to be published. WL and SE made substantial contriubtions to analysis and interpretation of the data, revising the article critically for important intellectual content, and gave final approval of the version to be published. FL made substantial contributions to acquisition of data, interpretation of data, revising the article critically for important intellectual content, and gave final approval of the version to be published. IHP made substantial contributions to acquisition of data, study conception and design, interpretation of data, revising the article critically for important intellectual content, and gave final approval of the version to be published.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Fred Lurmann is employed by Sonoma Technology Inc., Petaluma, CA. Rob McConnell and Fred Lurmann have received support from an air quality violations settlement agreement between the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a California state regulatory agency, and BP. Drs. Volk and Eckel received travel funds from Autism Speaks to present at an academic conference. The other authors declare no competing financial interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and within the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants in the study.

Supplementary material

10803_2017_3304_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (353 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 353 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tara Kerin
    • 1
  • Heather Volk
    • 2
    Email author
  • Weiyan Li
    • 3
  • Fred Lurmann
    • 4
  • Sandrah Eckel
    • 1
  • Rob McConnell
    • 1
  • Irva Hertz-Picciotto
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of MedicineUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Mental Health, Bloomberg School of Public HealthJohns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Department of Epidemiology, Bloomberg School of Public HealthJohns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Sonoma Technology Inc.PetalumaUSA
  5. 5.Department of Public Health SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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