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New Evidence Links Mercury Emissions to Rates of Autism

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 by: Teri Lee Gruss
Tags: mercury, autism, health news

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(NewsTarget) Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHSC) say that "for the first time in scientific literature, a statistically significant association between autism risk and distance from the mercury source" has been established.

Lead researcher Raymond F. Palmer PhD says, "This is not a definitive study, but just one more that furthers the association between environment mercury and autism". The study, Proximity to point sources of environmental mercury release as a predictor of autism prevalence appears in the journal Health & Place (2008).

"We suspect low-dose exposures to various environmental toxicants, including mercury, that occur during critical windows of neural development among genetically susceptible children may increase the risk for developmental disorders such as autism".

Mercury sources evaluated in the UTHSC study included "coal-fired utility plants (33 percent of exposures), municipal/medical waste incinerators (29 percent) and commercial/industrial boilers (18 percent)". Concrete manufacturing was also listed as a source of mercury emissions.

Autism rates were gathered in 1,040 Texas school districts and distance from mercury sources were measured to a central point in the communities studied.

Researchers noted that children with autism not enrolled in the school districts studied were not included in the data. Therefore autism rates presented in this study may be somewhat under-reported.

Key findings from the UTHSC study news release

* For every 1,000 pounds of mercury released by all industrial sources in Texas into the environment in 1998, there was a corresponding 2.6 percent increase in autism rates in the Texas school districts in 2002.

* For every 1,000 pounds of mercury released by Texas power plants in 1998, there was a corresponding 3.7 percent increase in autism rates in Texas school districts in 2002.

* Autism prevalence diminished 1 percent to 2 percent for every 10 miles from the source.

Adding up the mercury body burden

Considering other sources of mercury exposure, from fish consumption, mercury amalgams and mercury preserved vaccinations along with the data from this revealing study, it isn't hard to see that the total body burden of mercury to pregnant and nursing mothers and young children is increasing at a potentially dangerous rate.

Dr. Palmer emphasizes that mercury pollution is a global issue. We know that coal burning power plants and industrial emissions travel in jet streams and ocean currents, redistributed across the planet and into distant food supplies. So how do we protect children, not only from mercury sources close to home but from global sources as well?

In 2007, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported that "China uses and releases more mercury than any other country in the world". The NRDC is working internationally, to find solutions to this problem including a reduction in global supply and demand for mercury and a strategy to control coal burning emissions in China. We can apply this same model domestically.

In their document "NRDC Finds to Stop Mercury Pollution in China: China is Cornerstone in Solving Global Mercury Problem", the authors say that China mined 1400 tons of mercury in 2004 for domestic use, about half of total global mercury used. Additionally, China imports mercury, much of it coming from the European Union which, according to the NRDC is the world's biggest exporter of mercury.

Reducing exposure to mercury, a potent neurotoxin, is integral to halting our exploding rate of autism. Eliminating the mercury preservative thimerosal in all vaccinations, eliminating consumption of mercury contaminated fish and seaweed and eliminating the use of mercury amalgams are effective steps towards reducing cumulative total body burden of mercury in pregnant and nursing mothers, small children and everyone else.

Reducing industrial mercury emissions is a challenge that has to be addressed both at home and abroad.


UTHSC News Release, April 24, 2008
Study links autism risk to distance from power plants, other mercury-releasing sources


Palmer, R.F., et al., Proximity to point sources of environmental mercury release as a predictor of autism prevalence. Health & Place (2008), doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2008.02.001.

National Resources Defense Council

About the author

Teri Lee Gruss, MS Human Nutrition

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