A new study conducted by Swedish and American scientists accidentally uncovered a possible link between an environmental chemical and autism.
The original focus of the study was to look at causes of allergies and indoor air pollutants. But one of the questions asked of the Swedish families taking part in the study turned up an interesting curve ball. On asking the families what type of flooring was in their houses, the researchers discovered that there was a high incidence of children with autism in homes that had vinyl floor covering.
It’s known that vinyl floors can emit phthalates. And previous studies have already shown a link between phthalates and allergies and asthma. In 2004, for example, a study found that there was a higher rate of asthma and allergies among children living in households with dust containing phthalates. But this is the first time that a possible connection between phthalates and autism has been uncovered.
Researchers discovered, on further analysis of the survey data, that four environmental factors in particular seem to be associated with autism: vinyl flooring, the mother’s smoking, family economic problems, and condensation on windows.
With the incidence of autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder, having increased tremendously over the past 20 years, these findings could be an important key to understanding why.
The scientists themselves have found the connections “intriguing and baffling” and warn that their results are “far from conclusive”. However, with these clues indicating that environmental conditions are contributing to autism disorders, they believe that further study is warranted.
Image: Jesse Millan