Why suspect environmental mercury as a contributing factor to autism and other neurological disorders?

  • Recent research has implicated air-borne mercury as a contributing factor to autism. A 2008 Texas study found a significant increase in risk of autism diagnosis related to proximity to coal plants or other industrial mercury emitters (see Proximity to Point Sources of Environmental Mercury Release as a Predictor of Autism Prevalence). A 2006 San Francisco study found an association between autism and the amount of mercury in the air. See theSafeMinds Environmental Autism and Mercury fact sheet for more details.
  • The SafeMinds white paper “Environmental Mercury and the Risk of Autism” contains details on the biological plausibility that environmental mercury can cause autism. It describes how sources of environmental mercury exposure could already be exceeding the recommended exposure limits. The paper describes the biological mechanisms by which this excessive mercury exposure could be contributing to autism.
  • The prime source of methylmercury exposure is through consumption of predator fish such as tuna and swordfish. As of today, methylmercury has not been definitively linked with autism. However, it is generally accepted that methylmercury exposure can cause neurodevelopmental delay in a fetus or infant; thus, both the EPA and FDA have advisories regarding fish consumption. There are many good organizations, medical doctors, and researchers who are working in this field.

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