The People That You Meet
David Kirby on HuffPo: Rain, Autism and Mercury

Best of Age of Autism: Mercury is in the Air

Managing Editor's Note: This post ran last spring. We thought we'd run it again in light of the study from Cornell on precipitation and autism and David Kirby's latest piece on Huffington Post titled "Autism, Rain and Mercury" HERE.

By Mark Blaxill

It was March 31, 1981, less than three months into Ronald Reagan's first term. The nation had just learned that a mentally ill gunman had shot the president and the bureaucrats back at the White House were trying to figure out what to say and do next. That was when Alexander Haig, the Secretary of State at the time, decided that the most important thing he could do was to reassure the American people. In a famous press briefing, Haig told reporters "as of now, I am in control here, in the White House." Although he would later run for President himself, Haig's delusion of control was brief. (He was also wrong, constitutionally speaking, but that mattered little). Within a couple of hours the Vice President had landed back in Washington DC and any need that some panicked soul might have felt for reassurance from Secretary Haig had quickly passed.


It's a powerful impulse, the need for a sense of control in our lives. Perhaps the only more powerful impulse is the desire among political leaders like Haig to respond to that need by providing reassurances that, indeed, "everything is under control here in Washington. Don't worry your little heads, you members of the public, that anything is amiss or out of order. Just leave all the important decisions to us."

I sometimes wonder what possesses so many in our medical and scientific leadership these days. Why is it so hard to face the inconvenient reality of the autism epidemic? The numbers scream out that we are in the midst of a national emergency in childhood health; hundreds of thousands of developing brains have been damaged by some form of environmental exposure; families all over the country are in crisis; and yet the official line from the CDC and other medical leaders comes straight out of the Alexander Haig playbook. Everything's under control here: we're just doing a better job diagnosing; the criteria have changed and isn't it wonderful that we're helping more children now; they were simply overlooked before by earlier officials who weren't as much in control of the situation as we are now; oh, and don't worry your little heads about our vaccine suppliers, everything they're doing is perfectly safe. If you don't believe us, we've got a doctor in a nice white coat who will be on the air right after the Vytorin commercial and he'll tell you all about it.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

The problem, of course, is that everything's not all right. And it's not all right in the kind of perfect storm of out-of-control incompetence that makes Haig-style bureaucrats squirm.

  • The CDC doesn't want to admit that the numbers have gone up by tenfold. Why? Because that would mean they'd been negligent in performing one of their most important jobs, the surveillance of American disease. "Asleep at the switch while the greatest crisis in a generation emerged on our watch? That can't be the story; let's just pretend it's always been there, we were simply the first to call attention to the problem and never missed a thing!"
  • The medical establishment doesn't want to admit that hundreds of thousands of children are sick. Why? Well in part because quite a number of researchers were eager to make autism one of the great victories of the Age of the Genome. But mostly because no one has the foggiest idea of what is really behind the Age of Autism. "Clueless about the cause of disease when we're supposed to be the heroes who have all the answers? That can't be. Well let's just tell everyone that we're slowly unraveling the mysteries of autism. That way we might be able to get someone to expand our budgets, which will be good as long as they don't try to tell us how to spend it or put any pressure on us for results. Hey, that autism thing is beginning to sound like quite an opportunity!"
  • The vaccine development complex doesn't want anyone to consider, not even for a moment, that the largest uncontrolled experiment in the history of childhood health just might have had even a small role to play in causing the problem. "Vaccines cause autism? Oh you irresponsible public you! How could you think such a thing? (Shhh, maybe there's one teensy weensy case out there. Nothing major, just a rare and GENETIC mitochondrial disorder. Oh, well maybe it wasn't any genes that we could find, but it was certainly rare. Oh, the next case in line looks just like the first? Uh oh, what do we do now?)."

You get the idea.

Unfortunately, as with all cases of large scale denial, the problem is going to have to get a whole lot worse before it starts to get better. And tomorrow, down in San Antonio, researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHSC)--in another bit of news that will make the public health bureaucracy want to go run and hide--will announce the release of yet another study connecting mercury exposure and autism. This time, the study reports results that link a higher risk of autism to higher levels of mercury in the air.

Just so you understand how new and disturbing this idea is, I'll say it again: higher levels of mercury in the air. Not methyl mercury in fish samples from a Manhattan sushi bar; not inorganic mercury bound up in silver fillings from a dentists office (they're completely safe too, by the way); and no, not even the infamous thimerosal (that gentlest of bacteriostats) that's still lurking in those remarkably ineffective flu shots.

Mercury in the air!

To be more precise, UTHSC scientist Ray Palmer has found in two consecutive studies that increased exposure to mercury emissions from industrial sources, most notably coal smoke from electric power plants, is significantly associated with increased autism risk. In their first study published back in 2005, Palmer et al found that higher emissions of mercury in a school district, after taking into account all sorts of other factors that might affect autism rates, appeared to increase autism risk. In the second study coming out tomorrow, Palmer et al have refined their initial analysis. Their latest analysis shows that the closer a family lived to a major mercury emissions source, the higher the autism rate: for every 10 miles closer your family lived to a mercury source, your risk of autism went up between 1 and 2 percent.

The first impulse of the Haigian bureaucrat of course, is to deny the possibility of the loss of control. Surely, this is a rogue study, a John Hinckley kind of insanity masquerading as science (maybe now he's trying to impress Jenny McCarthy!). But unfortunately for the denial impulse, Palmer et al appear to be on to something quite important. Not only have they replicated their own findings on mercury in the Texas air, they're also replicating a similar finding from researchers in California. In 2006, a group of researchers (who certainly couldn't be considered rogue analysts, since the proponents of the first failed theory of autism epidemic denial, Lisa Croen and Judy Grether, were among them) looked at levels of hazardous air pollutants in California. They found roughly double the autism risk in the areas with the highest concentration of mercury in the air.

That's right. Living in the areas with the highest levels of mercury in the air in California doubled the risk of autism.

What' s so important to recognize about these studies is that they have little to do with all the normal routes of mercury exposure that most scientists are used to talking about: it's not about fish, fillings or vaccines, the compound and exposure pathways that scientists have reduced to reasonably well defined theories of exposure and biology that they can test in their labs. Instead, they're mercury exposures that very few people are measuring coming at us in forms that people don't yet know how to think about. To the extent that some scientists are studying this form of the problem, and there is actually a great deal of science about mercury emissions, transport and deposition in the environment, they study the emission points and human exposure pathways separately. Their human exposure models mostly focus on methyl mercury, which appears not to be at issue here. But their emissions models consider all different kinds of mercury in the air: elemental mercury vapor, reactive gaseous mercury compounds, or simply mercury dust (what scientists call fine particulate matter). And because they don't know what form it's in, scientists can't really tell us what exposure pathway we should be worried about. Are we breathing it or drinking it? Is it in the aquatic food chain or in the dust that falls on our cars? Unfortunately right now, the end-to-end modeling of the whole problem is not yet under control. Alexander Haig would not be pleased.

But there are some new ideas that can emerge when one starts thinking about this new inconvenient problem. One thing I'd suggest is that when we think about mercury exposure we ought to be thinking a lot more about things like rain. Most models that consider how mercury reaches the ground presume that mercury from the upper atmosphere is deposited on the earth's surface along with precipitation. So rain would be a transport vehicle for mercury. That raises an interesting connection. A couple of prominent (and much ridiculed by parents) studies have spun elaborate theories about autism risk: that autism is caused by watching television too much or by excessive prenatal stress by pregnant mothers who are worried during hurricanes or storms. Both of these studies drew their conclusions about risk factors based on a simple proxy measure for TV watching or stress in pregnancy: precipitation. So instead of assuming that kids watch more television when it rains and that therefore television causes autism or that pregnant mothers are under greater stress during hurricanes and storms, stress levels that are measured of course by the amount of rain, perhaps we should consider a simpler explanation.

It's the rain stupid.

As Palmer et al point out, there's a lot of reason to be concerned about rising levels of mercury in the air from all sources. Most airborne mercury comes from coal burning, and we've seen huge increases in coal consumption during just the last few decades based on the explosive, and largely coal-fueled, growth of the Chinese economy. Mercury can come from local point sources like the ones analyzed in the Texas studies, or it can come down the from distant sources like Chinese power plants that launch the mercury into the upper atmosphere where winds carry it across oceans and around the globe and then it comes down to the ground level with precipitation.

So for those of you who are worried about the effects of too much carbon dioxide in the air, maybe you should worry just as much about another by-product of all that coal burning.

Mercury is in the air. No one's in control. It's time we faced that reality and started doing something about.

Mark Blaxill is editor-at-large of the Age of Autism and a Director of SafeMinds.




The essential problem is the attack on the brain which causes an autoimmune reaction. Both mercury and aluminum can do this in themselves, but beyond that, ANY vaccine can do it and cause vaccine encephalitis, even with no metals added to the vaccine, as in the live virus vaccines, the MMR and varicella vaccines, all very dangerous. This provocation of autoimmunity is in the very nature of vaccination according to Dr. Richard Moskowitz, author of Vaccination: A Reappraisal. Some people, largely for genetic reasons, can take a lot of vaccine abuse before reacting, while others do so more readily.

Cherry Sperlin Misra

To Tanner's Dad, Thankyou for your beautiful words. Could you write a book? I cling to the thought that someday some photo or book or incident will galvanize the world in our favor. Fourth of July is a good idea, but might have some disadvantages.
Im of the opinion that we need to discuss how to change public perception of autism in order to mobilize public opinion. Recently, I told my pediatrician daughter over the phone about two small improvements in two autistic kids in my school- One had hugged me and said my name and one was heard talking at 2:00 AM by his mother. My daughter exploded with " See ! These kids arent autistic" ! I didnt have a chance to explain to her how strange and disconnected so much of their behavior is and how delayed their language. Clearly she and the other neonatologists must have been sitting around talking about how many of the kids diagnosed as autistic are really not autistic at all. If doctors have no idea what autism is, what kind of help can we get from them or anyone else?

Daniel Faiella

We believe autism is an autoimmune disorder
When we did DMSA it was about year ago, just before stem cells. Someone told us it was a good thing to do before stem cells and we found out it is not true. If stem cells are going to work, then they will work, no chelation or diet will make a difference. The Cabrera family ( we know them personally) and my family didn't do either of the two things and both had the best result.

It even shocks us more when people tell us they are chelating after they do stem cells. I guess they don't understand by doing that it will kill the new cells.

We believe in repairing the immune system and letting the body clean and heal itself naturally.

Autism is an autoimmune disorder cause by viruses ( in vaccines or environment ). We do believe the viruses in the DTaP shot is what caused Matthew to get Autism. Mercury may be part of the problem but it doesn't cause it by itself, otherwise everyone who got vaccines would have Autism. Viruses damage the immune system and prevent the toxic metals from being excreted, thereby making the problem worse. We believe viruses cause Autism to those who have a weaker immune system. Look at what virsuses are able to do to your DNA

There has been 90% of merury taken out of the vaccines since the year 2000. The rate of Autism should have slowed down and been less severe but that just hasn't happened, in fact it has gotten worse. That tells us there is something else that is the problem and not the mercury. There is no doubt to us that it is the viruses in the vaccines!!!
Posted by Daniel and Ruth

Media Scholar

GE/Autism Speaks has lots of money invested in clean coal technology. To date there aren't a lot of buyers. Perhaps with David Kirby's help the those making investments will create returns, but it's not likely.

This is mainly due to the fact that coal has been burnt in America for centuries and no Autism.

It is not ironic that since GE/Autism Speaks invented clean coal technology these studies about mercury in coal have popped up.


I'm seeing a new market for a device that sprays a sulfur based concoction from the roof of our houses and perhaps a handheld aerosol version as well. Let me get to work on this.......
thanks for the very scary article,


It's all about tipping points, isn't it? Great, great article. Paraphrasing Yeats:

For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of toxic s*** than he can understand.

Dan, tx

Less Arctic Ice means more atmospheric mercury, which more mercury in the rain.

The Arctic and Heavy metals

With climate change and a stronger Arctic Oscillation, scientists expect less sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice normally prevents mercury from leaving the ocean and entering the atmosphere. Because of climate change, more mercury may therefore move into the atmosphere from the ocean. The strength and location of the polar sunrise phenomenon (when mercury moves from the air to the snow surface) may also change.

As permafrost melts and temperatures rise, lakes and rivers will contain more organic matter and, therefore, more mercury. (Mercury levels are generally higher where there is more organic matter.) The mercury will be carried in rivers to lakes and coastal areas where it is more available to freshwater and marine animals. Once mercury enters the food web, top predators are likely to accumulate more mercury.

Google "Arctic Heavy metals" for more info.

Teresa Conrick

Bingo! All excellent points, Mark. I am a mercury junkie and this is significant. Maybe Palmer will do this -- "that increased exposure to mercury emissions *(thimerosal)* from industrial sources, *(vaccines)* most notably coal smoke from electric power plants,*(flu vaccines, based on age of fetus, child, etc/pregnancy)* is significantly associated with increased autism risk."

Linda Girard

Mercury in the air??? Hmmmmmmm....Last I checked, my daughter with autism was breathing the same mercury-filled air as her neurotypical, UNVACCINATED younger sister.


It's 1-2% for every 10 miles. So if you lived 50 miles further away from the source, your autism risk declined 5-10% and even more if you lived further away. The decline is statistically significant.

Diane Farr

Okay, I'm a full fledged female and I don't have the math brain that my recovered son has and my husband says I am horrible at math. Help me out! A 1-2% increase? Is this significant? Where in Texas was this study? If I lived on the West Coast or I was a fish in the Atlantic I would be running for Texas. It sounds like a good country song. Anyone?


No wonder my unvaxed son in on the spectrum with developement & speech delays.
I'm living in a highly polluted state. I moved her 6 yr ago (from AZ) & I've never felt worse in my life.
I've never seen such a large amount of delayed/ASD kids in such a small town. The speech therapists & OTs are booked solid.


Testimony of
Kathleen A. McGinty, Secretary
Department of Environmental Protection
on Costs/Benefits of Pennsylvania’s State-Specific Mercury Emissions Reduction Plan
before the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee
Harrisburg, PA September 12, 2006

"Sorbent Technologies also notes that “because the coals burned in Pennsylvania have** high mercury**, reductions through activated carbon injection are particularly cost-effective.” "

"The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stresses the need for reducing dangerous emissions to protect vulnerable populations, noting: “A mother’s womb is a child’s first environment; yet from conception, unborn children may face a disproportionate threat to their neurological development from environmental exposures to toxins such as mercury.” Limiting mercury emissions also is a high priority of the National Council of Catholic Women because of the pollutant’s “devastating effect on the small bodies and developing minds of our young people.”

"Mercury from bituminous coal-fired power plants oxidizes, becomes water soluble and then deposits locally, creating toxic “hot spots” of contamination. DEP’s own analyses reinforce this conclusion. Eight years of data collected at two different locations in the commonwealth for the department by Penn State University show a 47 percent higher concentration of mercury at the site proximate to coal-fired power plants (Cambria County) as compared to that site removed from such plants (Tioga County)."

Medical research shows that even very low levels of mercury can impair intelligence and brain function. Dr. James M. Roberts, director of the Magee-Women’s Research Institute in Obstetrics and Gynecology, has made clear “there is no evidence of a threshold below which mercury causes no damage to the fetus.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 6 percent of women have mercury levels in their blood above what the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and EPA say is safe. That means each year an estimated 600,000 babies are born who have been exposed to unsafe levels of mercury in the womb.

%%% this is just dandy %%% keep reading>>>>> (roll eyes)

Despite these facts, power companies continue to lobby fast and furious against mercury pollution controls in Pennsylvania, with unsubstantiated claims concerning costs, technology and competitiveness. They have threatened to shut down power plants or dramatically increase rates if the legislature fails to heed their demands, and they have said taking state action against mercury would cost our commonwealth and hurt our competitiveness. Just the opposite is true.

Forcing Pennsylvania ratepayers to continue writing checks to pay for upgrades at plants in other states means our facilities will become increasingly outdated and uncompetitive. Under “trading” provisions of the federal Clean Air Act, Pennsylvania power plants have opted to buy credits to a far greater extent than power companies in any other state --- meaning they have bought their way out of upgrading plants in Pennsylvania and instead had their ratepayers subsidize upgrades at out-of-state plants.


Residents warned of mercury found in fish
By Mary Ann Thomas
Sunday, November 4, 2007


News Analysis: PA Counties Rank Among Worst In US for Toxic Chemical Emissions

Air date: 03/28/2007


Zoiks! Just look at the West coast (where we live). Boy, it sure is lucky that we get all those tube socks, tainted heparin vials and lead-encrusted toys so cheaply from China, because we're going to need those few extra cents to pay for lifetime services for all the kids who've been poisoned by the air from those Chinese power plants and factories.

Angela Warner

Mark, This is Excellent! Terrifying! and Truth!

For too long, I've been asked to write our family's story for military leaders. This past week I did so and I cried every time I worked on it. This story of ours has gone (as of last night) to our senior military leaders and Tricare/Triwest CEO and others, along with the letter to Secretary Gates that all of our national autism organizations endorsed. I have put two portions of our family's story below. It makes me sick because in the letter to Secretary Gates I wrote, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" and it is just terrifying that they all continue to deny this, and because they have done so they are now looking at the cost of prevention and cure. And not just autism; our world! They completely tuned out the brilliant adage, and now our entire world is paying for it! What a plethora of shiznit they've created!
If anyone wants to read the entire story (it's military and autism treatment related) feel free to drop me a line [email protected]


I recently read an article in which Secretary Gates stated: “I’m asking you to be part of the solution and part of the future”. Secretary Gates, and anyone else reading our story, I am asking you to “be part of the solution and part of the future” for our children with autism and for our country. Our children can no longer be ignored, our numbers are too great. According to the Department of Education we have one in every sixty-seven children in America receiving special education services under the autism eligibility category. One in sixty-seven children with severe autism! If our children are not able to access medically necessary treatment in the immediate future, in another ten years (if even that long) our country is going to be in complete financial crisis because of the autism epidemic.


A dear friend of my great-great-great uncle Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote:
“Your doctors, and your proctors, and your deans,
Shall not avail you when the Daybeam sports
New risen o’er awakened Albion. No!
… Because your manner sorts
Not with this age wherefrom ye stand apart,
Because the lips of little children preach
Against you, you that do profess to teach,
And teach us nothing, feeding not the heart.”
Lord Alfred Tennyson

I ask you to consider this timeless poem in deep reflection and think of the autism epidemic. The heart is our children and our children are our future. We have a moral and ethical obligation to offer every single child with autism the opportunity for recovery.

Kim for Keith

Hi, Keith. I just pulled that photo from an image search for its relevance. I don't have the doc from which it might have come.



Kelli Ann Davis

“It's the rain stupid.”

The eloquent, diplomatic, Mark Blaxill who realizes that sometimes, ya just gotta put that all aside and call it like you see it.



A few weeks ago, I read an article that mentioned "mercury hotspots", so I put that on the Yahoo! search line and found a similar map of the US. My thought was, "Good thing I know my geography, because if not, I would not know where the heck New Jersey is -- it is so obliterated by red dots." I had been purchasing Maine bottled water until I read the reported printout of autism prevalence in Maine (#1!). Now I purchase distilled water in the hope some of the Hg is removed by that process. I am also giving myself, my husband and my ASD kids extra vitamin C as I read (in researching safe removal of dental amalgams) that mercury has a great affinity for vitamin C. Now I am reading that vitamin C is a natural chelator. Great stuff. Good thing I am taking the time to read up on this, and thank you, Mark, for bringing awareness to this impossible problem. Our politicians are certainly not keeping us in the loop. I vote for no more allowing companies to trade their Hg cleanup credits/responsibilities to other companies. Each company must be held responsible for their own cleanup. I cannot believe our politicians have allowed this to happen. Do they not breathe the same air we do? I do not care how expensive the "fix" is. I am sick of my family and others paying the price for this insanity.


How's about a link to a readable scale map of the picture/icon with the thread title please?


for me, this brings new meaning to the association of arthritis pain flaring with rain. as the correlation between maternal autoimmune disorders and their children's autism has not gone unnoticed by many of us.

Tanner's Dad

Now this is a video we need to send to our friends, relatives, insurance agent, Doctors, Lawyers, and Eli Lilly...

Sadness Turned Outward: The Truth About Autism and Vaccines

Cost to big pharma: 6 cents

Cost to a parent: 4 dollars

Cost to kids: Their Health

Big Pharma making the world think is is caused by our genes... Priceless

My sons last words after his shots...The morning of July 4th..."My name is Tanner My name is Tanner"

Let's make July 4th Independence day from Autism! Make them pay... Remove the statute of limitations.

We need Respite, therapies, and restitution!


The picture, and this article remind me of something I did a couple yrs back when I started my support group. I stayed up one night researching mercury emissions from, and printed a map of mercury emissions nationwide. Then I printed a map, and colored it in, various shades for each state's autism prevalence.

Comparing the maps, the evidence was pretty clear. The first time us parents met, I passed those maps around, and we sat, in amazement. We were just parents, not scientists, yet we could see the correlation.

I just pulled my sleepy Jade off the bus at 4. There are 20 elementary age kids in our small subdivision that ride this bus, that brings our children home from the autism program across town. Within 2 miles of our subdivision, is a smokestack, we can all see every day, puffing away, deposit god-knows-what in the air. Ironically, it is called "Progress Energy".

I can tell you, there are not 3000 children in our mostly senior community.

About a year ago, I watched a documentary about the Inuits in Alaska, and how women can no longer breastfeed, as their milk is too toxic for their babies. It was explained that all the coal burning in China, Mexico, and the lower 48 was depositing large amounts of toxins in the water, which ended up in their main staple- fish and whale meat. The Inuits have a LARGE number of developmentally delayed children, and no resources to help them.

So sad, that a culture, which has not taken any part in the destruction of our environment, is paying the ultimate price.

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