Research Finds Link Between Mercury and Autism

A growing number of studies are now indicating a link between lead, mercury, and arsenic exposure and autism. A June 2016 study linked autism to exposure of lead. Researchers looked at data on over 4,000 children with autism living in census tracts in five sites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. They found is areas with the highest air concentrations of lead had a “significantly higher” prevalence of autism. 

Read about mercury poisoning

In 2015, researchers also looked at the association between lead, mercury, and arsenic exposure and autism. They looked at census tracts near industrial facilities releasing lead, mercury, and arsenic during the 1990s. They found that autism prevalence was higher in areas located closest to industrial facilities emitting air pollutants. 

There are a number of other studies linking exposure to toxic pollutants, including:

A 2006 study linking environmentally released mercury exposure in Texas to a 61 percent increase in autism rates. 
A 2009 study linking mercury pollution in 1998 in Texas to autism prevalence in 2002. 
A 2013 study finding that prenatal exposure to air pollutants increased the risk of autism. 

Too many Americans are exposed to lead, mercury and arsenic

Many Americans are regularly exposed to lead. The town of Flint, Michigan is a famous example. In 2015, the mayor of Flint declared a state of emergency due to lead in the town’s drinking water. An article in NPR last month found that unfiltered water in Flint still is not safe to drink. Flint is not the only town in America with lead tainted water. A Reuters investigation found that there are nearly 3,000 areas in the country with lead poisoning rates “far higher” than Flint. Over 1,100 areas had a “rate of elevated blood tests at least four times higher,” according to the investigation.

There is no safe level of lead exposure for children, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Americans can be exposed to lead in their drinking water through metal water taps, interior water pipes, or pipes that connect a house to the main water pipe in the street, according to the federal agency. Lead cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled in drinking water, so the only way for people to know if their water is tainted with it is to have it tested.

Just as there is lead contamination in some of the nation’s drinking water systems, there is also arsenic contamination. A recent White House report found that 500 public drinking water systems have arsenic levels above the legal limit. 

Most mercury pollution in the U.S. comes from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants. After mercury is expelled from smokestacks it falls on the ground in rain or snow, contaminates waterways and winds up in fish. It does not take much mercury exposure to be harmful. “Just fractions of an ounce of mercury can contaminate local and regional water bodies, making resident fish unsafe to eat,” according to a report by Environment America. 

Read more about heavy metals and children's health

The U.S. is one of the richest countries in the world yet it fails to protect its citizens from exposure to toxic elements like lead, arsenic and mercury. As Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wrote recently, “Clearly we are in desperate need to reduce exposures to these highly toxic metals that act synergistically in the body to cause harm.”

By Gina-Marie Cheeseman| January 17, 2017
Categories:  Live

About the Author

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer armed with a passion for healthy living and a degree in journalism. Hailing from the dry, sunny Central San Joaquin Valley, she hasn't let the heat fry her brain!

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