Thursday, March 17, 2005

Crazy 'bout a mercury part II

In the LATimes today, from RDF at Corrente, we have this:

Texas researchers have found a possible link between autism and mercury in the air and water.

Studying individual school districts in Texas, the epidemiologists found that those districts with the highest levels of mercury in the environment also had the highest rates of special education students and autism diagnoses.

and this:
"Mercury is a known neurotoxin," said Dr. Isaac Pessah of UC Davis' MIND Institute, who was not involved in the study. "It's rather intriguing that the correlation is so positive," meaning that there was a strong, direct relationship between mercury and autism levels. "It makes one worry."

California has the highest environmental burden of mercury of any state in the country, and it also has what appears to be the highest rate of autism as well — although some critics attribute this perceived high rate to enhanced surveillance associated with the state's special education program.

Autism is a severe developmental disorder in which children seem isolated from the world around them. There is a broad spectrum of symptoms, but the disorder is marked by poor language skills and an inability to handle social relations.

The incidence of autism has grown dramatically over the last two decades, from about one in every 2,000 children to as high as one in every 166. Researchers have been hard-pressed to explain the increase, but many believe mercury to be the culprit.

The purported link between autism and mercury has been a subject of intense debate. In the past it has centered primarily on the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal, which was once widely used in vaccines.

The study, which will appear in the journal Health & Place, found that for every 1,000 pounds of mercury released into the environment, there was a 43% increase in special education services and a 61% increase in the autism rate.

The exception to the rule was Brewster County, which had a high autism rate but did not report significant mercury levels to the EPA. When Palmer investigated, however, he found that the county had been home to one of the largest mercury mines in the nation.

And lest we forget, we will now have more of this pretty shiny stuff in our air. Hmmm, take a deep breath now. Smells so sweet.

We also have this from the Autistic Society:

Things seemed to be on the right track until about Becky’s 16th month, when things mysteriously started to go wrong. By 18 months, she had entirely lost the six or seven spoken words she had started using earlier. She started avoiding eye contact with her mom, and became uncoordinated, inattentive, irritable, and withdrawn. Angela and Jerry would often find Becky staring vacantly into space and biting her hands.

Nobody knew what to make of this. Becky’s doctor was perplexed, and ran Becky through some tests. The results confirmed autism and revealed the likely culprit: mercury.

Becky’s not alone. The number of children with mercury-caused problems is growing. According to new estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, 16 percent of women of childbearing age have dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies, putting more than 600,000 children at risk each year.

Where is this stuff coming from? Coal-burning power plants are the single largest source of mercury pollution. They release over 100,000 pounds (50 tons) of mercury into the environment annually in the U.S. Once released into the atmosphere, it soon gets into streams, lakes, and the sea, where it forms methyl mercury – a potent neurotoxin.

It targets the developing fetal brain and nervous system. Even tiny amounts can cause serious developmental problems, reflected in humans as difficulties in walking, talking, hearing, and writing. Fish are often found with high levels of mercury in their tissue.

President Bush’s “Clear Skies Initiative” will allow power plants to increase mercury emissions by 520 percent by 2010. In December, Mike Leavitt, Bush’s new EPA administrator, said that it is “not feasible” to determine how much mercury the chemical and power plants are emitting, nor to enforce tougher standards.

Read the whole thing, it's tragic and sickening.

"You suck my blood like a leech, you break the law and you breach..." Thanks again, Freddie.