Women who are frequently exposed to common workplace chemicals may be more likely to give birth to children with autism, according to a new study.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, looked at a group of 750 mothers and analyzed the frequency and intensity with which they were exposed to chemicals typically found in the workplace, including pesticides, disinfectants and cleaning supplies.

Researchers found that mothers of children with autism were 1.5 times more likely to be exposed to workplace solvents compared with mothers of children not on the spectrum.

The solvent mothers were most frequently exposed to were disinfectants and cleaners.

Researchers point out that, while their study is peer-reviewed, it is observational and cannot establish a cause. Therefore, “cautious interpretation is needed,” they wrote.

“However, these results are consistent with earlier reports that have identified solvents as a potential risk factor for [autism spectrum disorders],” researchers wrote in the report.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a person’s social and communication behaviours. In Canada, about one in 66 children between the ages of five and 17 are diagnosed with autism, according to Statistics Canada’s most recent numbers.

The new report drew on data from the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment study which collected information on nearly 1,000 children, about half of whom were formally diagnosed with autism.

Scientists have not established a clear cause for autism. A large-scale study published earlier this year found that -- despite concerns among some – there is no evidence that the mumps, measles, and rubella vaccine increases the risk of autism. A Chinese report published last fall suggested that long-term exposure to vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions could play a role.