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By Dan Olmsted
A full house of about 80 people heard Mark Blaxill and David Kirby address the autism epidemic and its environmental roots Friday -- and one of the attendees was a member of the House who suggested their remarks may soon get even more attention.
"The Energy and Commerce Committee should have both as witnesses," said Rep. Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey, praising them for the quality of their presentations and citing the urgent health crisis created by the rising numbers of autistic children. He said he would speak with Rep. Carolyn Maloney D-NY, about setting up a hearing. Maloney sponsored the briefing but was unable to attend due to a committee hearing, but her chief of staff, Ben Chevat, introduced Blaxill, Kirby and Smith. (That's Rep. Smith on the right, speaking. David Kirby is in the background.)
Smith spoke eloquently at both the start and the end of the hour-plus briefing; more than anything he said, it was his attendance that gave a boost to autism advocates present. The community lost a strong advocate this year when Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., retired from the House, but Smith seemed more than ready to step up as a thoughtful, fair-minded advocate for parents' concerns. Blaxill reached Smith where he lived, literally -- Blaxill grew up in New Jersey, and noted the autism rate is now 1 in 99. Smith recounted his involvement with parents in Brick Township, N.J., where the autism rate of 1 in 150 in the 1990s first sounded the alarm of rising prevalence. (That's Mark Blaxill speaking.)
Smith, a member of the House since 1980, said he was not anti-vaccine but said the program should not go unexamined if the price is an autism epidemic, and specifically mentioned concern about mercury as a trigger. He said that as part of his work on human trafficking, he traveled internationally extensivlely, and was recently told by parents of a number of children in Lagos, Nigeria, that they believe mercury in vaccines was causing a surge in the condition there.
This was the second year Blaxill and Kirby spoke to Congressional staffers in the Cannon House Office Building. The Hannah Poling and Bailey Banks cases, along with new studies of environmental links -- including vaccines -- gave the proceedings a "mainstream" feeling despite efforts by public health officials and some pediatricians to assert that they question has been "asked and answered." (Below, David Kirby speaks.)
Judging by Smith's comments, the respectful questions, the audience size and the concerns raised by Blaxill and Kirby's presentations, those questions are still being asked in the halls of Congress -- and the next stop may be a Congressional Committee where Blaxill and Kirby will have the attention of a roomful of Congress members.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism