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Mercury’s Blowback - Autism PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Roman Bystrianyk   
Monday, 10 March 2008 00:00

Mercury, also known as quicksilver, is the only common metal which is liquid at ordinary temperatures. Metallic mercury is used in a variety of household products, such as barometers, thermometers and fluorescent light bulbs. Alkali and metal processing, coal-burning power plants, medical and other waste, and mining of gold and mercury contribute greatly to mercury concentrations in some areas. However, the dominant source of mercury over most of the landscape is when mercury enters the atmosphere. Once in the atmosphere, mercury is widely disseminated and can circulate for years, accounting for its wide-spread distribution. 

Mercury is a neurotoxin. The “mad hatters” of the 19th century suffered from mercury poisoning which caused personality changes, nervousness, trembling, and even dementia. The hatters were exposed to mercury in the felting process when mercury was rubbed onto cloth to preserve it. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “for fetuses, infants, and children, the primary health effect of methylmercury is impaired neurological development. Methylmercury exposure in the womb, which can result from a mother's consumption of fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury, can adversely affect a baby's growing brain and nervous system. Impacts on cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills have been seen in children exposed to methylmercury in the womb.” 

According to a recent article in USA Today, the EPA states that as many as 600,000 babies may be born in the USA each year with permanent brain damage because pregnant mothers ate mercury-contaminated fish.

In 2005, about 500 coal-burning power plants emitted 48.3 tons of mercury, an increase of 1% since 2000, according to a USA Today analysis of the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory. These plants supply half of the nation’s electricity and are the nation’s largest source of mercury air emissions. 

Gold jewelry is also extremely profitable amounting to over $44 billion dollars in 2006 making gold jewelry one of the world’s largest categories of consumer goods. An estimated 10 to 15 million small-scale miners rely on mercury to separate grains of gold from small bits of sand and rock using pans or other small scale equipment. The technique results in a gold-mercury amalgam which is later heated to release the mercury and extract the gold. 

The largely unregulated flow of mercury is polluting waterways, land, and the miners themselves throughout Africa, South America, and Asia. Because the miners heat the gold-mercury amalgam in open pans elemental mercury is released into the atmosphere. United Nations Environment Program, or UNEP, estimates that “small-scale gold mining releases between 650 and 1,000 metric tons of mercury per year,” and that this pollution accounts for “about a third of all mercury releases to the environment from human activities.” 

Once in the atmosphere mercury eventually falls in rain or snow to the ground or water. Rain and melting snow wash mercury into lakes and streams and eventually into the oceans. Bacteria in the soil sediment and water as well as plants convert mercury into methyl mercury. This form of mercury can readily be absorbed into and remain in fish tissue. Fish accumulate methyl mercury into their bodies by eating plants or by direct contact with bacteria. 

As ever-bigger fish eat small ones, methyl mercury accumulates in their bodies. The larger the fish the greater the concentration of mercury. Fish such as tuna, swordfish, and shark have some of the highest concentrations. Methyl mercury levels can be 1 million times higher than in the surrounding water. 

A letter published in Medical Journal of Australia report on three infants whose parents had sought medical advice for either developmental delay or neurological symptoms in their children. All three children had eaten fish congee, a rice and fish porridge, as a weaning food and ate fish regularly as toddlers. 

In the first reported case a 2-year-old boy had demonstrated increasingly “aggressive behavior for the past 6 months.” A general practitioner had diagnosed the boy’s father with mercury poisoning 2 months earlier following complaints of allergies, rashes, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. The boy’s blood mercury level was measured at 158 nmol/L [nanomoles per liter]. The normal range for adults is considered less than 50 nmol/L. 

In the second reported case a boy aged 2 years and 10 months presented with “delayed speech and some autistic features.” Since weaning, the boy had eaten fish up to eight times a week. The child’s blood mercury level was 350 nmol/L. Two weeks after removing fish from the diet the child’s blood mercury level had fallen to 99 nmol/L. “However, his behavior did not improve, and he was subsequently diagnosed with classical autism.” 

In the final reported case a 15-month-old boy was examined with delayed development since birth. Fish had been introduced to his diet at 8 months of age and had consumed fish four to five times a week. The boys’ mother had consumed fish three to four times a week after the fifth month of her pregnancy. The boy’s blood mercury level was 143 nmol/L, but feel to 19 nmol/L over a period of a year after ceasing fish intake. “His longer-term development status is unknown.” 

The authors conclude with a recommendation that “multilingual information about fish and mercury be made available to pregnant women and mothers, especially targeting groups who are likely to be frequent consumers of fish and who use fish in weaning and infant foods. Regulatory and health promotion activities could also be informed by surveillance of blood or hair mercury levels in infants from ethnic groups at high risk of mercury intoxication, and of the frequency of fish consumption in this age group.”


Source: Medical Journal of Australia, 2008
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Thoughts Regarding Autism Spectrum Neurodevelopmen tal Disorders

Of these rare neurological disorders, Autism is the most common. The autism spectrum reflects the broad range of symptoms in which the names of these autism disorders have been given their own name for their disorder.

Autism is a disability that is suspected to be caused possibly by a brain development disorder of unknown etiology. Others suspect the cause is some sort of neurological dysfunction- possibly with a genetic predisposition. Autism is about 3 times more common in males than females as well, and it is unclear as to why this occurs.

Usually, symptoms of the disease present themselves before the toddler reaches the age of three. Before Autism was more understood, others inaccurately labeled autistic people as childhood schizophrenia or as having a psychosis or mental retardation.

Symptoms of the autistic patient included limited or dysfunctional social and personal or intimate relationships with others, their intelligence is affected, and the autistic person typically is adverse to change. Also, the autistic person tends to be compulsive and prefers to be alone. They lack eye contact as much as physical contact with other people.

Out of over two dozen diagnostic criteria utilized for these disorders, eight must be present to be considered autistic, according to the DSM. As with all passive developmental disorders, the person expresses language, social, and behavioral difficulties.

Treatment includes what are called psychotropic medications that delay the progression of the disorder, as well as relieve some of the symptoms of one who is autistic. Behavioral therapy is common as a treatment regimen as well. Boys get Autism much more than girls.

Then there is the controversy between many who claim that thimerosal- a preservative containing mercury, which is a neurotoxin that was used in vaccines until 2001, was the catalyst for autism in children.
Over 5000 lawsuits have been filed because of this belief, and some have been successful for the plaintiff. Yet most agree the correlation between thimersal and autism is void of scientific merit. Furthermore, the cases of autism have not decreased since the preservative was discontinued in 2001.

Aside from Autism, the other four passive developmental disorders are known as autism spectrum disorders.

Asperger’s Syndrome is more common than autism, and the symptoms are milder, as there is minimal delay in language abilities, if at all. What is expressed with Asperger’s syndrome is mild autistic symptoms. In time, the patient may express atypical personality disorders, though.

While intelligence is within normal limits with the Asperger’s patient, social interactions and abilities preset difficulty for such a patient. As with Autism, medications and behavioral therapy are treatment regimens with one with this syndrome.

Rett’s Syndrome or disorder presents with not only atypical behavior, but also suffers from restricted physical growth and movement. There is cognitive and social impairment as well. The disorder affects mostly girls, and the cause is due to a gene mutation.

Childhood Disintegrative disorder is rare, and is 10 times less common than autism. The disorder has a late onset with mild autistic symptoms. The disorder affects mostly boys, and regression is sudden and possible with this disorder.

Skills lost with this disorder may be language, social, self-care, as well as play or motor skills. Decreased function or impairment with this disorder may include social skills and behavioral flaws. Central Nervous System pathology is a suspected cause of this disorder.

Finally, there are passive development disorders that are not otherwise specified. This may include atypical autism, for example. Yet as with the rest of types of these disorders, the symptoms vary in their frequency and intensity, as well as the range of abilities of these developmental disorders vary widely as well.
Medicinal treatment is believed to be not necessary for the management of all of those who may have autistic spectrum disorders.

Depending on the patient’s health care provider, medications may be prescribed by their doctor to manage any affective disorders autistics may present in an acute or chronic nature. However, cognitive and behavioral therapy prove to be most beneficial for all the different types of Passive Development Disorders that exist for reasons yet to be defined.

www.autism-society.org

Dan Abshear


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Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 September 2009 01:38