Hertz-Picciotto was covered last month in Slate.com. On Nov 5, 2015, Slate.com published the piece, What Environmental Factors Cause Autism?--Experts can rattle off autism-linked genes, but other risks are very hard to pin down, by Sarah DeWeerdt.
DeWeerdt acknowledged that genes are a factor in autism and researchers have found "autism-linked genes," but "genetic studies failed to find a single obvious cause." There are "other risks." She listed a lack of folic acid, maternal anti-depressants, premature birth, C-sections, old moms, old dads, pesticides and having babies too close together. DeWeerdt let us know that there are so many factors, and just because something is associated with autism doesn't mean that one can cause the other. Lisa Croen, director of the Autism Research Program at Kaiser Permanente, said that we're spent so much time looking at genetics, 'there's still a ton to be learned.'
DeWeert quoted Marc Weisskopf, associate professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, who said, 'The problem with epidemiology and observational science is that it’s hard to ever completely know you’ve got causality.'
It's all so confusing. It's hard to know which environmental factors affect the child and which ones affected the mother or the father. And then there's "the time lag" between exposure and diagnosis. There are the pre and post natal exposures.
DeWeert throws out so many possible environment risk factors that the reader could easily figure that it's impossible to know what might be linked to autism in any particular child. She called autism "a puzzle."
There was no sense of urgency, no demand that they learn to PREVENT the disorder, no recognition of the large percentage of autistic children who start out as normally developing babies and who inexplicably lose learned skills and regress into autism. DeWeert didn't mention the current autism rate even once.
So who's to blame for the lack of science on the environmental triggers in autism?
It's all those parents who link vaccines to autism!
DeWeerdt wrote that Hertz-Picciotto feels that the "thoroughly discredited" claim of a connection between vaccines and autism "has contributed to scientists' skepticism about other potential environmental factors." She quoted Hertz-Picciotto: 'I think in the autism field that actually has been a bit of an obstacle because people equate vaccines and environment.'
REALLY? Is Hertz-Picciotto working alone at the MIND Institute? How could two other MIND Institute scientists, Dr. Judy Van de Water and Dr. David Amaral, have gone on the record with serious concerns about vaccine safety and even linking vaccines to autism?
In my book, The Big Autism Cover-Up, How and Why the Media is Lying to the American Public, I cited Dr. Van de Water, an epidemiologist at the MIND. I quoted Van de Water from a TIME Magazine story about Hannah Poling in 2008. (Hannah was the young Georgia girl whose claim of vaccine-induced autism was compensated by the DOJ after medical experts at HHS agreed vaccines were causal.)
'Some vaccines, such as those aimed at viral infections, are designed to ramp up the immune system at warp speed. They are designed to mimic the infection So you can imagine, getting nine at one time, how sick you could be."
Van de Water said that children whose immune systems are slower to develop are more likely to become autistic when vaccinated. She said she was worried that the current schedule contained too many shots for some children. She advised parents who are concerned to space out vaccines.
And what about the very public statements made by Dr. Amaral, director of autism research MIND Institute?
Remember when veteran journalist Robert MacNeil interviewed Amaral for the PBS series, Autism Now in 2011, back when the official rate for autism was one in every 110 children?
ROBERT MACNEIL: What is your position today on vaccines and autism?
- DAVID AMARAL: So I think it’s pretty clear that, in general, vaccines are not the culprit. There has been enough epidemiological evidence showing that if you look at children that receive the standard childhood vaccines that, if anything, those children are at slightly less risk of having autism than children that aren’t immunized.
And so, you know, I think it probably is a waste of effort at this time to try and understand vaccines as a major culprit for, or a major cause of, autism. It’s not to say, however, that there is a small subset of children who may be particularly vulnerable to vaccines.
And in their case, having the vaccines, or particular vaccines, particularly in certain kinds of situations — if the child was ill, if the child had a precondition. Like a mitochondrial defect. Vaccinations for those children actually may be the environmental factor that tipped them over the edge of autism. And I think it is incredibly important, still, to try and figure out what, if any, vulnerabilities, in a small subset of children, might make them at risk for having certain vaccinations.
So was Amaral serious when he said this on PBS?
Hertz-Piciotto was also interviewed by MacNeil on PBS in 2011. She was positive about an environmental link to autism, saying, 'I have a lot of candidate factors, actually. And they include nutritional factors, infectious agents, chemicals in our environment, including chemicals in the household products that we use every day. There are a variety of factors that could be influencing development.' She talked about pesticides along with "nutritional deficiencies."
This was their exchange regarding vaccines and autism:
ROBERT MACNEIL: "Do you think that part of the skewing was a reluctance of whoever funded it, defund environmental research because of the popular pre-occupation with the vaccine issue? That it scared people off?"
- HERTZ-PICCOTTO: "Well, I think I encountered resistance when I brought up the word environment and I was very surprised to find that colleagues in the field of autism immediately equated environment with vaccines. So that may well have played some role.
"I think there’s also a lot of excitement about technology and molecular biology has brought a lot of recent developments in terms of how we look at genes and how many genes we can do at what price with what kinds of new technological developments we have. So often the big machines get money at National Institutions of Health. And those of us who are doing a little bit more of the dirty kinds of work don’t necessarily get it as much of the research dollars."
Maybe Hertz-Picciotto figured that the public has a very short memory for news flashes and they won't remember what Amaral, cited as the head of research of the MIND, said four years ago.
Then on April 12, 2012, both Amaral and Hertz Picciotto were included in the USA Today story, After $1 billion, experts see progress on autism's causes, by Mike Stobbe.
Finding the cause is critical because if not, according to Hertz-Picciotto, 'you're not going to be able to stop this increase.' She was described as a researcher "who is leading a closely watched study into what sparks autism disorders."
—Hertz-Picciotto's study of 1,600 children in Northern California is comparing autistic children, youngsters with other developmental disabilities, and those who have no such diagnoses. Some results have been released already, including the recent finding that suggests a link between autism and a mother's obesity. An earlier part of the study found that children born to mothers living less than two blocks from a freeway were twice as likely to have autism — presumably because of auto exhaust and air pollution, the researchers speculated.
David Amaral's photo was featured in the piece. Stobbe reminded readers: "For years, the best-known environmental theory involved childhood vaccines, prompted by a flawed 1998 British study that has been thoroughly discredited. Dozens of later studies have found no link between vaccines and autism." (It seems that Amaral's 2011 comment about the vaccine link on PBS had been neatly forgotten.)
Olmsted reported on a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of their own system of monitoring and evaluating the safety of vaccines. Despite the fact that this setup literally gives the CDC oversight over itself, it's the way it's set up. While officials expected that the results would show that using toxic mercury in vaccines had no harmful side effects, there were problems.
Hertz-Picciotto, the chairwoman of the panel evaluating the safety of the mercury-containing vaccine preservative thimerosal, was less than convincing when Olmsted interviewed her.
'I think what we're saying is that (study) wasn't the last word and that things need to be looked at again and perhaps with different methodology.'
In addition to the CDC study, Hertz-Picciotto said other research had even more problems or weaknesses. She said that autism science had "barely begun." As far as vaccines were concerned, back in 2006, Hertz-Picciotto said 'It's an open question whether anything about vaccines -- timing, dose, preservative -- is related to the rise in diagnoses.' (It should be noted that studies she questioned were ones used by the Institute of Medicine in 2004 to show that there was no link between thimerosal and autism.)
Between 2006 and 2015 Hertz-Picciotto seems to have gone from calling the autism/vaccine link 'an open question,' to saying that all the science is in.
In 2009, Hertz-Picciotto was included in a Scientific American article called, New Study: Autism Linked to Environment. She placed the blame on chemical exposures. She cited a study that showed that "mothers of autistic children were twice as likely to use pet flea shampoos, which contain organophosphates or pyrethroids." She named research linking autism to vinyl, cosmetics and things like antibacterial soaps. She did sound very concerned about increasing numbers.
'If we're going to stop the rise in autism in California, we need to keep these studies going and expand them to the extent possible.'
'Autism incidence in California shows no sign yet of plateauing.'
Also in 2009, Environmental Health News covered Hertz-Piciotto in Autism increase not caused only by shifts in diagnoses; environmental factors likely, new California study says.
Hertz-Picciotto and Lora Delwiche of the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences analyzed 17 years of state data that tracks developmental disabilities, and used birth records and Census Bureau data to calculate the rate of autism and age of diagnosis.
The results: Migration to the state had no effect. And changes in how and when doctors diagnose the disorder and when state officials report it can explain less than half of the increase.
Combined, Hertz-Picciotto said those factors “don’t get us close” to the 600% to 700% increase in diagnosed cases.
That means the rest is unexplained and likely caused by something that pregnant women or infants are exposed to, or a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
“There’s genetics and there’s environment. And genetics don’t change in such short periods of time,” Hertz-Picciotto, a researcher at UC Davis’ M.I.N.D. Institute, a leading autism research facility, said in an interview Thursday.
In 2011, Hertz-Picciotto was on Dr. Oz in a show entitled, What Causes Autism. There she cited a study that show that pregnant women who lived a fourth of a mile away from a freeway were twice as likely to have a child with autism.
In 2013 at UC Berkley Hertz-Picciotto lectured on the cause of autism. The list of possible candidates was long and nothing was for sure. She talked about how to investigate environmental links to autism with large scale studies of children. One of the candidates was mercury exposure and autism--mercury exposure from fish and amalgams. She reported that after checking blood levels, mercury was shown not to be a factor. Despite this, she said that studying mercury levels in the blood couldn't determine if it was causal.
Hertz-Picciotto went on to say that air pollution and lack of supplements could be factors. She ended with a discussion of prenatal development. Once again, nothing was conclusive.
Then in 2014, Hertz-Picciotto was covered by CBS Sacramento in UC Davis Finds Link Between Autism, Mental-Health Drugs During Pregnancy. Readers were told, "New research by the UC Davis MIND Institute links pregnant moms who take anxiety and depression medications called selective serotonin reputake inhibitors to children with a higher risk of autism and developmental delays. Hertz-Picciotto headed up the study which focused more on the connection between the drugs and autism in boys. That’s because boys are four times more likely to have it than girls."
She urged parents not to panic, however.
"But it’s not time for parents to panic, she said, since much of current autism research points to a number of risk factors leading to a child’s diagnosis.
'We’ve published other findings for example, related to nutritional factors, exposures to air pollution,' she said."
Hertz-Picciotto needs to look at the coverage from the Sacramento Bee, also on Apr 16. In a piece called, Number of Sacramento County autistic students doubles over six years, the Bee announced:
About 3,100 Sacramento County public school students are autistic, a number that has risen seven-fold since 2000, according to new figures from the California Department of Education.
The figure represent a jump of about 300, or 10 percent, from 2013 to 2014. More than one of every 80 students in Sacramento County public schools is classified as autistic.
The number of autistic children also rose in El Dorado, Placer and Yolo County.
Statewide, the number of autistic students rose by 6,100, or 8 percent, to almost 79,000. The number of autistic students statewide has risen by between 5,000 and 7,000 most years for more than a decade. In 2001, there were about 14,000 autistic students in the state.
If anyone wants a sobering look at autism in California, listen to the State Senate Select Committee on Autism press conference held in 2009.
There were "14,000 students with autism a decade ago.” Today, “46,000 students and growing." (And according to the Sacramento Bee, that number is now almost 79,000.)
It's amazing that no one in the state government considers this a health care and economic emergency despite seeing this explosion in disabled kids. It's even more stunning that top researchers at the MIND in California can vacillate on the vaccine issue. If, as Hertz-Picciotto seems to believe, the numbers are real, we can't just sit around for decades guessing at the cause while trying to bury the mounting evidence on the link to vaccines. Maybe Hertz-Piciotto and others can get funding if THEY PROMISE NOT TO CONSIDER VACCINES AS A FACTOR, but it won't make the link go away.
Seven years ago we learned that medical experts at HHS conceded the claim of vaccine-induced autism in the case of Hannah Poling. That was the same year that the former head of NIH, Dr. Bernadine Healy, announced on CBS News that we haven't answered the autism-vaccine question because population studies can't disprove causation and we've never looked at the children who got sick and regressed into autism.
Four years ago we learned that the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program had compensated 83 cases of vaccine injury that included autism. (That list has grown since then with more cases added.)
Back when Dan Olmsted interviewed Hertz-Picciotto in 2006 the U.S. autism rate was one in every 166 children. Today it's one in every 68. (Or one in every 45, accounting to a recent update that everyone seems determined to ignore.) While health officials still try to claim that the numbers don't represent a real increase, Hertz-Picciotto disagrees. She knows that this is a crisis of unprecedented proportion. She knows it's linked to the environment. It just can't be vaccines.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism and author of The Big Autism Cover-Up: How and Why the Media Is Lying to the American Public, which is on sale now from Skyhorse Publishing.