ExcitableBy Kent Heckenlively, Esq.

It’s been said that to know who you really are you need to find out who your enemies are and what they say about you.

With some amusement I recently Googled myself and autism to see what came up.  I found that some claim I’m a “rabid anti-vaccinationist” and one blogger in particular referred to me as “the ever-excitable Kent Heckenlively.”

This particular blogger goes by the screen-name “Hacklehead” and after his nom de guerre has written the following motto, “Crush the liberals, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the hippies.”  I guess he didn’t want people to get him confused with all of those namby-pamby Hackleheads.

If the worst I’m ever called is “ever-excitable” I’ll consider myself lucky.  With a name like Heckenlively would you expect me to be anything else? 

My most recent excitement came from the great state of Texas and more particularly, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.  A study led by Dr. Raymond Palmer, Ph.D., associate professor of family and community medicine found that there was a statistically significant link between the “industrial release of mercury and increased autism rates.”

Mercury-release data was compiled from 56 industrial facilities and 39 coal-fired power plants along with autism rates from 1,040 Texas school districts.  You’ll forgive me if I get a little excited, because I am very simple-minded, but that sure sounds like a heck of a lot of information.  It sounds like they crushed the number (or is it crunched?  I get so confused and excited!!!!), drove them before their calculators, and heard the lamentations of the children.

The authors found that for every 1,000 pounds of mercury released by industrial sources in 1998, there was a corresponding 2.6 percent increase in autism rates in Texas schools in 2002.  Similarly, autism prevalence diminished 1 to 2 percent for every 10 miles from the mercury source.

The authors wrote “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.”

In an article on the study in Science Daily (April 25, 2008), Dr. Palmer is quoted as saying, “We need to be concerned abut global mercury emissions since a substantial proportion of mercury releases are spread around the world by long-range air and ocean currents.”

I know some may call me excitable.  They may quote back to me Dr. Palmer’s words, “This study was not designed to understand which individuals in the population are at risk due to mercury exposure.”  I would tell them to read what the good doctor said next.  “However, it does suggest generally that there is greater autism risk closer to the polluting source.”

The implication of this REALLY BIG STUDY is that the closer you are to the “polluting source” of mercury the greater the risk of autism.  I don’t understand why mercury which floats through the air in pollution or travels through the water cycle before ending up in our children would be less dangerous than mercury injected directly into their veins.

Dr. Palmer himself seemed to be a little swept away at the implications.  “This is not a definitive study, but just one more that furthers the association between environmental mercury and autism.”  Sounds like he’s a rabid anti-mercurialist!

Finding out what causes autism should get everybody excited. 

Even if you’re a Hacklehead.

Kent Heckenlively is Legal Editor for Age of Autism.


Ginger Taylor

Kent, I am excited about your excitement!


Heck, Kent, you're lively!

I wonder whether some folks form unconscious judgments after reading your name. Maybe some are projecting leftover impressions from Arthur Kent, the "Scud Stud."

Could be worse... you could be named Wolf Blitzer. Rabid, indeed.

Cathy Jameson


Love the post! You are so far from being a mamby-pamby anything with all that you do for this community. Keep on writing ever-excitable pieces for us parents.


Craig Willoughby

Kent, are you going to be at the Press Conference in Dallas? I'm going to see if I can ask for some time off and be there.

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