Banned chemicals linked to autism

A banned chemical which still lingers in the environment has been linked to autism, new research reveals.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were used in a variety of products, such as electrical appliances and fluorescent lighting, but were banned in the 1970s following concerns over their effects on health.

However, a new study has linked PCBs to autism. When pregnant women are exposed to high levels of the chemical, their children are around 80 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with the condition compared to other children, researchers said.

Children exposed to the chemical during the prenatal stage are also two-times more likely to develop intellectual disabilities unrelated to autism.

However, the findings do not conclusively prove that PCBs are directly related to the diagnosis of autism.

“Autism is a complex condition with many different causes, and those causes vary among individuals,” said Kristen Lyall, an assistant professor at Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, in Philadelphia.

Other factors such as genetic susceptibility and certain environmental conditions can influence the risk of autism, the researchers believe.

While an exact cause for autism is still unknown, other studies have suggested links with poor nutrition during prenatal stages, infections, heavy air pollution and pesticides.

However, PCBs could be another one of the “puzzle pieces” said Dr Lyall.