Everywhere I look, one kind of metal or another seems to be implicated in modern environmental illnesses. You’ve all heard the discovery Mark Blaxill and I made that places organic mercury via both vaccines and pesticides at the start, and heart, of the autism epidemic in the 1930s. Clearly, ethylmercury is deeply implicated in the roots and rise of autism.
It’s important to remember that vaccines and pesticides are merely vectors, not causes. What they deliver – the toxic exposure -– is the heart of the matter. For instance, metals delivered in quite another way – through emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources of environmental mercury – showed up as a powerful connection to autism in the two Palmer studies at the University of Texas. And coal contains not just mercury but arsenic and lead – both metals.
“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,” according to the authors.
Another study, by Windham and colleagues, found a similar correlation by linking “the California autism surveillance system to estimated hazardous air pollutant (HAP) concentrations compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. … Our results suggest a potential association between autism and estimated metal concentrations, and possibly solvents, in ambient air around the birth residence, requiring confirmation and more refined exposure assessment in future studies.”
Noted autism researcher Isaac Pessah, who wasn’t involved in the study, told the L.A. Times, "Clearly this suggests that there may be correlations between autism onset and environmental exposures, especially as it relates to metal exposures."
Combined with the Palmer studies, and our own research on the first cases and their links to mercury, any honest effort to figure out what’s causing autism would by now have zeroed in on metals and their mechanisms of delivery, whether through coal, air pollution in general, pesticides, vaccines, or what have you. But because one of the delivery mechanisms – vaccines – is protected by a moat of official denial, the entire field is blocked and diverted into unrewarding Groundhog-Day style churning of topics like genes and strictly pre-term exposures. Post-natal? Metals? No way!
One thing I’ve always remembered from that Windham study is that the highest correlation with autism came from three different metals: mercury, cadmium and nickel (as well as two solvents, trichloroethylene and vinyl chloride).
Cadmium. Interesting. This week I’m back in my home state of Illinois, and the Chicago Tribune (hardly a friend to the environmental theory of autism) reported on a new study comparing organic and regular produce. The conventional wisdom is that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between them, except that organic costs more. This study did find important differences – including the fact that organic foods offer more antioxidants, which is the main reason to eat your kale in the first place. Plus, the researchers found more pesticide residue on regular produce (duh!) and much higher levels of … wait for it … cadmium. The level was still below official limits, but cadmium, because it’s a metal, is one of those things that can build up in your system. (Kind of like mercury and lead and arsenic.)
Cadmium, number 48 on the periodic table, is chemically similar to two other group 12 metals, zinc and … wait for it … mercury. Cadmium (like mercury) is no longer allowed in pesticides in the United States.
But it’s sure interesting to see mercury pop up in a study of coal emissions and autism in Texas, mercury and cadmium in air pollution and autism in California, and cadmium in a study of produce in general. And recall that pesticides have recently been linked to autism – in mothers who live near pesticide-sprayed fields in California. This conclusion is being resisted mightily by the mainstream autism epidemic deniers; as I argued last week, it is dangerous because it ultimately points to the heart of the matter – a non-genetic, man-made, environmental disaster in which food and medicine are deeply implicated via pesticides and vaccines.
And then there’s nickel. Interesting. Another stray article I read this week reported that a California boy developed a persistent rash whose cause was determined to be … wait for it … nickel poisoning from holding his iPad. The incident implicates "metallic-appearing electronics and personal effects as potential sources of nickel exposure,” according to Drs. Sharon Jacob and Shehla Admani, dermatologists at the University of California, San Diego. (There’s that word again – metallic.)
Given that the Windham study was in the San Francisco Bay area, you have to wonder if nickel popped up as a correlation with autism because of the proximity of Silicon Valley. And you have to wonder – well, you don’t have to wonder anything, but I do – whether the so-called Geek Effect has more to do with metals exposure than the ridiculous “assortive mating” ideas of Simon Baron Cohen and Wired magazine.
And, as I so often point out, it’s not just autism we’re talking about here. Pesticides have been linked to Parkinson’s; mercury to MS; pesticides to learning disorders; aluminum to Alzheimer’s.
Katie Weisman, who has spoken to the IACC about mercury in autism, sent a note recently about Alzheimer’s. “I have done some digging in the Alzheimer's lit,” she wrote. “They are even behind autism in terms of looking at environmental contributions - but what comes up consistently is metals - aluminum, cadmium, mercury, iron, manganese, etc.”
It’s too bad, but the blockade against meaningful research on autism may be slowing down the entire field of research into similar environmental factors – especially metals – behind the new wave of man-made illnesses. Think about that the next time you hear someone you care about is diagnosed with autism – or Alzheimer’s.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.