Debut authors Olmsted and Blaxill argue that autism is a “man-made” disease triggered by environmental factors.
While this is a highly controversial subject—many public-health officials question whether the incidence of autism spectrum disorder is actually increasing (or an artifact of diagnosis), and they downplay the importance of environmental factors—the authors have amassed a compelling body of material that suggests that a “complex mix of genetic susceptibility, toxic chemistry and poorly understood events in childhood” are at the root of the disorder. Looking to the history of mercury poisoning, they found many clues to its possible role—occupational illnesses, people treated with medicinal mercury, infants receiving mega doses of vaccines that contain mercury preservative, water and atmospheric pollution, etc. One of the most dramatic instances they cite was the use of mercury’s toxic properties to treat syphilis. While significant side effects were observed—weakness, tremors and even the loss of teeth—more long-term effects were not recognized and were mistakenly attributed to the disease rather than mercury poisoning. Many children routinely given an over-the-counter mercury compound, Calomel, as a teething powder or purgative, suffered from symptoms similar to autism. Only in the late 1940s was a connection made between a mysterious disease, “acrodynia,” and mercury poisoning. Industrial pollution from mercury, toxic waste in oceans and bays that poison the fish we eat and atmospheric pollution from coal dust have been shown to have serious health effects. The use of mercury as a preservative in the vaccines routinely given to infants has begun to come under scrutiny, but the evidence is inconclusive. In the author’s view, the occurrence of autism may be triggered by a number of factors acting together, which trigger the disorder in children who have a genetic predisposition or a compromised immune system.
Not entirely convincing, but carries the powerful message that “[t]his long nightmare of neglect and delay and denial needs to end.”