The mercury autism debate continues. While not a subscriber to the mercury vaccine/autism link I do not think debate and discussion should be closed on this or any other subject related to autism. Toxicologist Michael Wagnitz seems somewhat more qualified to present information on the "mercury" side of the debate than David Kirby and presents some interesting points in rebuttal of Psychiatrist Dr. Eric Fombonne.
The mercury, autism debacle: How stupid do they think we are?
May 7, 2007
Last weekend the Sixth International Meeting for Autism Research took place in Seattle. The meeting claimed to draw the top 900 autism researchers and scientists from around the world. One of the key participants was Dr. Eric Fombonne of Montreal Children's Hospital at McGill University. Dr. Fombonne, a psychiatrist, presented his research on mercury. His work involved testing the blood and hair of 147 children. Roughly half of his subjects were diagnosed with autism and half were considered neurologically typical controls. He found no difference in mercury levels in the patients hair or blood.
The first question one might ask is why a psychiatrist is considered qualified to do toxicological work. Most parents are concerned about the mercury exposure that their children received as newborns and infants from mandatory vaccines. The vaccine schedule in Canada, where Dr. Fombonnes study was done, and the United States were quite different in the 1990's. Dr. Fombonne,s patients were not tested after vaccination. If he had talked to any reputable toxicologist, they would have told him that the ethylmercury from vaccines clears the blood in about seven days. Ethylmercury, a short-chain alkyl mercury compound, is rapidly distributed to the brain, kidneys and other tissue. The hair tested would need to be from a first haircut to show this mercury exposure. Even if this was the case, research has shown that autistic kids do not excrete mercury efficiently. The hair would not contain any measurable amounts of mercury. It's to bad that McGill University does not have any toxicologists who could have explained to Dr. Fombonne that his work was a waste of time and money.
If one was really interested in determining the body burden of mercury they would perform the urinary porphyrin profile analysis (UPPA). Porphyrins are precursors to heme, the oxygen carrying component of blood. Mercury inhibits the conversion of specific porphyrins to heme. This test is backed by decades of published research. Recently it was shown in two published, peer-reviewed studies, that mercury inhibited porphyrins were significantly higher in autistic patients when compared to age matched controls (1)(2). The other way to test for mercury in the body is by using a provoking agent and measuring mercury in the urine.
The organizers of this meeting did not reveal that when Dr. Fombonne isn't conducting epidemiological studies or doing heavy metal analysis, he is appearing on behalf of vaccine manufacturers defending the safety of mercury. Dr. Fombonne refers to the amount of mercury in vaccines as "trace". Again, if he were a toxicologist or chemist, he would realize that the concentration of mercury in a multi-dose vaccine vial is 250 times higher than what the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies as hazardous waste.
(1) Nataf R, Lam A, Lathe R, Skorupka, C. 2006. Porphyrinurea in Childhood Autistic Disorders: Implications for Environmental Toxicity. Toxicol. Appl. Pramacol. 214(2):99-108
(2) Geier M, Geier D, 2006. A prospective assessment of porphyrins in autistic disorders: a potential marker for heavy metal exposure. Neurotox Res. Aug;10(1):57-64
About the Author: Michael Wagnitz has over 20 years experience evaluating materials for toxic metals. He currently works as a chemist in the toxicology section of a public health lab evaluating biological samples for lead and mercury.