Drinking Water and Autism: Using spatial Cluster Detection to Explore Patterns of Autism Cases in Lane County, Oregon
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a complex array of neurological disorders with a diverse presentation, multiple etiologies, and long-term ramifications. Prevalence of ASD in the United States is about 1 in 50 children as of 2013, making it a significant public health problem. The etiology is not understood, and it is widely accepted that it is multicausal, with genetic and environmental influences. Prior research suggests an association between water source and ASD. Contaminants such as lead, arsenic, mercury, pharmaceuticals and pesticides found in water are associated with developmental disorders suggesting that a systematic review focused on water source was warranted. Following the integrative model of environmental health (IMEH), this study explored the relationship of water source and ASD prevalence among children in Lane County, Oregon. This cross-sectional study utilized retrospective data of 91 open cases in April 2014. The study used chi square and geographical information systems (GIS) aided by cluster analysis to generate risk maps. Investigation of sociodemographic variables allowed comparisons to national data by zip code. Findings indicated no significant relationships or clusters of ASD populations by zip code, and no significant relationships to comorbidities between private or municipal water supplies. The IMEH framework enabled an in-depth data characterization of ASD and underscored the need for additional environmental data and universally standardized comorbidity definitions. Implication for positive social change include recognizing the importance of using social services data in the search for ASD risk factors.