Researchers Find That Blood Levels of Mercury Are Related To Autism
by Susan T. Williams
New evidence presented by scientists at the University of Northern Iowa concludes that levels of mercury in the blood are related to Autism spectrum disorder. These findings, published in the November 2007 edition of Journal of Child Neurology, are a major breakthrough that validates parents of Autistic children who argued that there was a connection all along.
The Department of Psychology researchers Dr. M. Catherine DeSoto and Dr. Robert T. Hitlan reanalyzed data from an important 2004 study and discovered an error in the original statistical calculations. After correcting the error, the researchers determined that the conclusions of the 2004 study were incorrect and that a “significant relation” does indeed exist between the blood levels of mercury and diagnosis of an Autism spectrum disorder.
The researchers also reported that hair sample analysis shows some likelihood that those who are afflicted with Autism may be less efficient at eliminating mercury from the blood.
After the original 2004 study, the Institute of Medicine’s Immunization Safety Review Committee had concluded that there was no evidence of a link between mercury-based vaccines and Autism and, furthermore, recommended that no further research be conducted. It was a huge setback for those who blamed vaccinations for the brain disorder and were lobbying for more research of the issue.
Autism is a complex brain development disorder that impairs a child's ability to communicate and interact with others, and causes restricted and repetitive behavior. Recent data suggests that Autism rates have increased to epidemic proportions over the last two decades, from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 150, although it's not known if the rise is a true increase or due to better diagnosis.
Some experts disagree that the increase is due to better diagnosis, since most new cases seem to be occurring within a single generation of children, those born between 1989 and 2003. Others suggest that Americans are exposed to greater collective amounts of mercury from various sources than ever before, and propose that thimerosal in vaccines may be only part of a much larger problem.
Thimerosal, which is approximately 50% mercury by weight, has been one of the most widely used preservatives in vaccines since the 1930s. Thimerosal enables the pharmaceutical companies to make a bigger profit. The preservative allows the vaccines to be packaged in larger vials that contain multiple doses. The smaller, single-dose vials of vaccines do not require a preservative but cost twice as much to produce.
In 1999, the FDA calculated the amount that an infant might receive from vaccines and concluded that the maximum cumulative exposure to mercury was “within acceptable limits”. However, the FDA admitted that “depending on the vaccine formulations used and the weight of the infant, some infants could have been exposed to cumulative levels of mercury during the first six months of life that exceeded EPA recommended guidelines for safe intake.” Independent researchers have published studies that calculated the sum of doses given up to 6 months of age, and determined that the doses actually exceed all mercury intake guidelines for all infants.
As a precaution, public health officials then urged vaccine manufacturers to reduce or eliminate thimerosal in vaccines as soon as possible. Today, thimerosal has been removed from or reduced to trace amounts in all vaccines routinely recommended for children 6 years of age and younger, with the exception of inactivated influenza vaccine.
An April 2001 article in Medical Hypotheses noted that the first cases of Autism were described in 1943 (though they had been noticed since 1938), in children born in the 1930s shortly after thimerosal was added to vaccines. The study also noted that as the mercury dose increased as more vaccines were added to the pediatric immunization schedule, the prevalence of Autism increased as well.
One theory is that some children may be born with a genetic susceptibility to Autism and then an environmental factor, such as mercury, can trigger it. "What's become very clear is that Autism results from a combination of having a genetic predisposition or genetic susceptibility, plus the added extra exposures from environmental factors or other kinds of lifestyle factors," declared epidemiologist Lisa Croen.
It is a sensitive and highly controversial topic that has even found its way onto fictional television. In late January, ABC network aired an episode of Eli Stone, in which the main character argues successfully in court that a vaccine containing mercury caused Autism. When the American Academy of Pediatrics learned of the episode, they called for ABC to pull the show and not air it. The AAP felt that the show would feed vaccine fears and lead to a drop in immunization rates, putting children at risk for life-threatening illnesses such as polio. ABC, however, refused to pull the episode, stating that “the characters, products, and events depicted in the episode are all fictional. The storyline plays on topical issues for dramatic effect, but its purpose is to entertain."
For Representative Dan Burton of Indiana, the issue is personal. His grandson has Autism, which his family believes developed after he received seven vaccines containing thimerosal in one day. Rep. Burton oversaw a three-year investigation of thimerosal, and his House Government Reform Committee concluded that “The Autism epidemic… may have been prevented or curtailed had the FDA not been asleep at the switch regarding a lack of safety data regarding injected thimerosal, a known neurotoxin." The committee also noted that the FDA and other public-health agencies failed to act, due to "institutional malfeasance for self protection" and "misplaced protectionism of the pharmaceutical industry.”
Rep. Burton presented this new study information by Drs. DeSoto and Hitlan to the House of Representatives in December of 2007, and asked the Special Masters to take these latest findings into consideration as they carry out their mandate of managing and adjudicating childhood vaccine claims. He also asked Chairman Kucinich to hold a hearing on the environmental risks of mercury in childhood vaccines before the 110th Congress ends in January 2009. He urged, “We owe it to the thousands of families living with Autism to follow the science, wherever it may lead.”
He is also asking for the families of Autistic children to receive compensation from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund, which is funded by tax money from the pharmaceutical companies when their vaccines are sold. Over 1,500 people have been paid more than $1.18 billion since the program began in 1986. Those with a diagnosis of Autism have previously been excluded from this Compensation Fund because officials argued that “only those injuries with a scientific basis would be compensated.”
The late Dr. Alan D. Clark, who passed away in 2006, wrote about his son who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, an Autism spectrum disorder, stating that “the symptoms of mercury poisoning are virtually identical to those of Autism”. Dr. Clark described how his son experienced “dramatic changes” very shortly after receiving two doses of thimerosal-containing vaccines. “There is a plethora of peer-reviewed scientific studies published over the last 50 years that mercury and specifically Thimerosal is genotoxic (damages DNA), nephrotoxic (damages kidneys), immunotoxic (damages the immune system), cytotoxic (causes cell death), cardiotoxic (damages the heart), thyrotoxic (damages the thyroid) and neurotoxic (damages the neurological system).”
The CDC recently granted $5.9 million for a five-year study to explore possible genetic and environmental reasons for the rapid rise in diagnosed cases. Researchers will consider a wide range of factors, including vaccinations. However, the study will only focus on children born between September 2003 and August 2005, after most pharmaceutical companies had removed thimerosal from children’s vaccines.
A 2005 investigative report by Dan Olmsted of United Press International looked to the Amish population for answers, as the Amish very rarely vaccinate their children. Based on the national rate of Autism, Olmsted calculated that he would find about 130 with Autism in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He found only four, the oldest of which was 9 or 10 years old. One had been exposed to high levels of mercury from a power plant. The other three had been vaccinated. Olmsted found similar results in Amish communities in Ohio and Indiana.
Calling the use of thimerosal in vaccines the "greatest catastrophe that's ever happened", Dr. Mark Geier, president of the Genetics Center of America, has been examining vaccine safety since the 1970s when he was a lab assistant at the National Institutes of Health. He strongly believes that “the link between thimerosal and Autism is clear”, and that public health officials are "just trying to cover it up."
“Most of the doctors and researchers involved in denying that vaccines cause Autism are recipients of large sums - millions of dollars in some cases - from the vaccine industry,” explained pediatrician Dr. Jay N. Gordon.
Agreeing that such financial ties are fairly common, Rep. Burton asserted that the CDC "routinely allows scientists with blatant conflicts of interest to serve on intellectual advisory committees that make recommendations on new vaccines." According to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an attorney and environmentalist, the pharmaceutical companies are also getting help from politicians. As an example, he cites Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, “who has received $873,000 in contributions from the pharmaceutical industry”, and “has tried to seal all of the government's vaccine-related documents and shield Eli Lilly, the developer of thimerosal, from subpoenas.”
Rep. David Weldon, a Republican physician from Florida, accused the Institute of Medicine of relying on "fatally flawed" studies that did not represent "all the available scientific and medical research."
Mark Blaxill, vice president of the nonprofit organization Safe Minds, declared "The damage caused by vaccine exposure is massive. It's bigger than asbestos, bigger than tobacco, bigger than anything you've ever seen."
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