More fodder for wacko autism conspiracy theorists (we're looking at you, Jenny McCarthy), or useful science?

Dunno. But the findings, unleashed by USC Thursday, will surely set off more debate about what causes the disorder. Researchers said they found that babies raised near freeways are twice as likely to develop autism.

For real?

“Children born to mothers living within 309 meters of a freeway appeared to be twice as likely to have autism,” said Heather Volk, the study's main author.

The study looked at chilrden in L.A., San Francisco and Sacramento.

According to a statement about the research:

Traffic-related air pollutants have been observed to induce inflammation and oxidative stress in toxicological and human studies. The emerging evidence that oxidative stress and inflammation are involved in the pathogenesis of autism supports the findings of this study.

The study almost contradicts the findings of an earlier UC Davis look at autism in L.A., which concluded that there were clusters of the disorder in upper-middle-class areas (not necessarily close to or far from freeways).

Some theorized that educated, higher-income people simply had more means to get their kids diagnosed (and that some inner-city children likely had yet to be pegged as autistic).

Whatever the cause or trigger, we're convinced (unlike McCarthy) that childhood vaccinations don't play a role.

But if you're looking for something to blame, Jenny, we guess the freeway is as good a trigger as any.

Read our story “Black Lung Lofts,” about how, despite evidence that “thousands of Southern California children living in near high-traffic roadways were contracting higher levels of crippling asthma and children living in smoggy areas were suffering impaired lung development” the city of L.A. has adopted a policy encouraging urban development near freeways.

LA Weekly