Want an excuse not to varnish that chair? Here you go: it could raise your kids' risk of autism. This probably isn't a huge issue for the occasional home-improver — but for people who work with varnish and other solvents as part of their jobs, it could be a big problem.
That's the implication of a recent study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorder, which looked at the parents of 93 kids with autism-spectrum diagnoses and 81 kids without. Scientists had parents fill out questionnaires listing what chemicals they'd been exposed to from three months before conception til the end of breastfeeding. They also asked the parents about their jobs, and had experts evaluate their chemical exposure based on their employment history. They found that parents who were exposed to lacquers, varnishes, asphalt, or xylene (a solvent found in some ink, rubber, and paint thinner) were more likely to have kids on the autism spectrum than those who weren't exposed to these materials. This bolsters earlier research showing that prenatal chemical exposure could predispose kids to autism.
The study authors acknowledge that their study is far from the final word, largely because of its small sample size. They write,
Our study has both limitations and strengths. It was limited by the small sample size given the large number of exposures evaluated and the low prevalence of some of the exposures. Nevertheless, as one of the first studies in several decades to systematically evaluate parental job exposures and risk of ASD, this evaluation of several dozen potentially biologically relevant occupational agents provides a first pass screen from which results can be used to target future research directions.
Basically, what they're saying is that they don't have conclusive proof that smelling varnish will make your kids autistic. What they do have is a baseline for further research, and a reason to look deeper into the impact of asphalt and certain solvents on workers' future offspring. Oh, and a potential explanation for the rise in autism diagnoses that has nothing to do with vaccines.
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