Autism and Mercury Relationship

The following is testimony from a recent ACIP meeting.
Thank you to Dr. Rick Hodish for supplying this report.

My name is Sallie Bernard. I live in Summit, New Jersey. I am the president and CEO of a market research company and a board member of the Cure Autism Now Foundation, the largest private funder of biomedical research on autism. I am also the parent of a 12 year old son with autism, and I am speaking to you today as a parent.

Autism is a severe neurodevelopmental disorder which, according to the latest CDC figures, may now be affecting as many as one in 150 children. The incidence of autism appears to be rising and as such, represents a significant public health issue. Due to the high likelihood that many if not most cases of autism are caused by the mercury in childhood vaccines containing thimerosal, and due to the fact that every child today can be fully vaccinated using a thimerosal-free product, I am asking you to join me in urging the FDA to call for an immediate ban on thimerosal-containing childhood vaccines.

In July of 1999 when the FDA first released preliminary statements that the amount of mercury injected into infants and toddlers through childhood immunizations exceeded government safety levels, a few parents, including myself, began to investigate whether mercury toxicity might be a contributing factor in our children’s autism. Our review of the available medical literature, summarized in our report, “Autism, a Unique Type of Mercury Poisoning”, found that the symptoms and abnormalities which characterize autism are identical to those found in past cases of mercury poisoning. These similarities include the defining characteristics of autism – social withdrawal, OCD behaviors, and loss of or impairment in language – and they include traits strongly associated with autism and found in nearly all cases of the disorder – sensory disturbances such as numbness in the extremities and mouth, aversion to touch, and unusual response to noise; movement disorders like toe walking, hand flapping, clumsiness, and choreiform movements; and cognitive impairments in specific domains like short term, verbal and auditory memory and in understanding abstract ideas.

The biological abnormalities in autism and mercury poisoning are similar as well. These include damage to the same brain areas – the Purkinje cells, granule layer, amygdala, and hippocampus; autonomic system disturbances like abnormal sweating, increased heart rate, and poor circulation; immune system dysfunction including a shift in the Th2 lymphocyte subset, suppressed natural killer cell function, and increased interferon gamma; low sulfate, cysteine, and glutathione; brain mitochondrial dysfunction; altered neurochemistry in the areas of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, glutamate, and acetylcholine; and EEG abnormalities from subtle slow amplitude waves to epilepsy. These are just a fraction of the similarities which we have identified in the medical literature.

The population characteristics are consistent in both disorders. First, the prevalence rate of autism closely matches the introduction and spread of thimerosal-containing vaccines. Autism was first discovered in the early 1940s among children born in the 1930s; thimerosal was first introduced into vaccines in the 1930s. Prior to 1970, autism was estimated at 1 in 2000 children; studies after 1970 showed a higher prevalence of 1 in 1000. This was also a period of increased immunization of American children. In 1996, the NIH estimated the rate of autism to be 1 in 500, and just recently the CDC has found 1 in 150 children affected. This dramatic increase coincided with the introduction and spread of two thimerosal containing vaccines – the HIB and Hepatitis B.

Second, mercury is more toxic to males. Autism is more prevalent among boys, with the ratio estimated at 4 to 1.

Third, at low doses, mercury adversely affects only genetically susceptible individuals, which are defined in terms of high responders and those prone to autoimmune disease. Autism has been recognized as one of the most heritable of all neurological disorders and it is strongly associated with familial autoimmune disorders.

Fourth, exposure to mercury in vaccines occurs at the same time as autistic symptoms emerge, given the latent period common in mercury poisoning. Symptom emergence is similar in both diseases, starting with abnormal movement and sensation, and moving on to abnormalities in speech and hearing, and then the full-blown array of symptoms and signs.

Our group has also documented a number of cases of autistic children with toxic levels of mercury in hair, urine, and blood. The breadth and specificity of these similarities, from defining and associated traits to biological abnormalities and population characteristics, as well as the timing of onset with exposure and the case studies of autistic children with toxic mercury levels, strongly suggest a causal relationship rather than one arising from mere chance.

Despite the fact that there have been no published studies on the effect of bolus doses of injected ethylmercury on susceptible infants and toddlers, some individuals have nevertheless concluded that the amount of mercury in vaccines is too low to cause any real impairment. On the contrary, we have outlined four rationales describing how the mercury levels in vaccines would lead to significant harm in a small number of children.

First, the cumulative amount of mercury which a 6 month old infant can receive exceeds the acceptable dose levels set by government agencies including the EPA, as outlined by Dr. Egan and Neal Halsey. Some have countered that since the EPA added a safety factor of ten, the risk of harm is insignificant. However, if you actually read the EPA report, it clearly states that the safety factor was added (a) to account for uncertainties and possible inaccuracies in the calculation (of which there are several significant ones) and (b) to protect sensitive groups. By exceeding the guidelines, these sensitive groups are at real risk, and arbitrarily ignoring the safety guidelines merely because it is inconvenient to follow them violates sound medical practice.

Second, the EPA equation, which uses data of fetal toxicity from 81 mother/infant pairs poisoned by methylmercury in seed grain, is based on factors which would result in a lower relative risk than those involved in an infant vaccine exposure scenario. Higher risk factors include bolus doses vs chronic daily doses, injected vs ingested delivery, ethylmercury toxicity vs methylmercury toxicity, direct exposure to the infant vs indirect to the fetus through the mother, lack of adequate excretion by infants resulting in high brain mercury accumulation vs adequate maternal excretion and relatively low brain accumulations in mother and fetus, more rapid metabolism in infants resulting in greater conversion of ethylmercury to its toxic inorganic form vs slower metabolism in the mothers, and the involvement of mercury sensitive individuals rather than the average person.

Third, the population distribution for mercury sensitivity, like that for nearly all toxins, is log normal; thus, statistically, a small percentage of the exposed population, if large enough, will be impaired at the lowest doses. The fact that some small percentage will be impaired at a very low dose is not just theoretical. It has been found true for certain strains of mice and rats, and it was also true for the form of mercury poisoning called acrodynia, which impaired approximately 1 in 500 children early in this century even at low doses. Clarkson describes acrodynia as being independent of dose and arising more from age and individual sensitivity.

And finally, the risk assessment for vaccines does not take into consideration that infants may receive mercury from maternal sources, including maternal dental fillings and Rhogam shots which Rh negative women receive multiple times during pregnancy, each of which contains 30 micrograms of ethylmercury.

Thimerosal is not a necessary component of vaccines. Immense harm has been caused by thimerosal in childhood vaccines. Do not risk permanent neurological damage to another child by allowing the continued use of thimerosal-containing vaccines. Official policy should err on the side of safety. Rather than waiting for formal studies to determine whether thimerosal should be taken out, the FDA should require that thimerosal be banned entirely from childhood vaccines immediately.

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