Remember the days in high school when kids would break thermometers and play with the beads of mercury, much to the teacher's chagrin? Well, mercury isn't for fun and games. In fact, when the teacher said that mercury was bad news, they weren't kidding. A new study links mercury polluters -- like coal-fired power plants -- with a higher risk of autism.
Mercury Puzzle Pieces

According to the study, published recently in the medical journal Health & Place, "proximity to point sources of environmental mercury release [is] a predictor of autism prevalence." It's based on research by the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. 

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a condition that affects more boys than girls. Between three and six children in every 1,000 have it. With autism, there are currently more unknowns than knowns and doctors and scientists are studying it intensely to develop some answers.

"These results are alarming," Theresa Wrangham, president of SafeMinds, said in a statement. "Any family living near a mercury polluter should be concerned. Mercury from all manmade sources needs to be eliminated immediately."

The study focused on coal-fired electric power plants, which account for about 40 percent of U.S. mercury emissions currently, and other industrial sources such as boilers, incinerators and cement plants.

Wrangham said that while common wisdom has warned moms-to-be against eating fishes with high mercury levels during pregnancy, this research suggests that the mercury dangers is more far-reaching. "Dr Palmer's research suggests that we must look at additional mechanisms, like direct human exposures from air, water, and soil, both pre- and postnatally," she said.

What can be done?

Installing mercury control technology could significantly reduce mercury emissions – by up to 90 percent. That would cost the average U.S. household between $8.28 and $25.68 per year. Meanwhile, Safe Minds cites a Harvard study that found that autism costs about $35 billion each year -- or $331.75 per U.S. household.

"Industry must make the green investments that provide a return on investment in children's health," said John Gilmore, president of Autism United, in a statement.

Meanwhile . .

A new study showed a link between primary incidents of autism and the current US children's immunization schedule. The research was unveiled at the International Meeting for Autism Research. University of Pittsburgh researcher, Dr Laura Hewitson, PhD, said that vaccinated animals showed significant neurodevelopmental deficits compared to their non-vaccinated peers. She said that there were "significant associations between specific aberrant social and non-social behaviors, isotope binding, and vaccine exposure."

The researchers say that there is a critical need for more research on autism and vaccination, particularly those that contain the mercury-based thimerosal preservative and additives like aluminum.

Read more articles on autism:

Date: May 2008

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