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Dr. Jamie Fettig

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Children/Baby's Health

Autism Rates Rise With Increased Mercury Pollution

Consider the facts: Hundreds of coal-burning plants in the United States send about 48 tons of mercury into the air every year. It is estimated there are 1.5 million people in the United States diagnosed with autism (mostly children) and the number of cases has sharply increased within recent years. A connection? You bet.

According to a study, mercury released primarily from coal-fired plants may be contributing to the sharp increase in autism rates. Researchers specifically focused on Texas county-by-county levels of mercury emissions recorded by the government and compared the results to:

Autism rates
Special education services in 1,200 Texas school districts
Main finding: On average, for each 1000 lb of environmentally released mercury, there was a 61 percent increase in the rate of autism.

This concern is being studied by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), though the organization is unsure how many cases of autism exist in the United States, or whether the number has increased. The Bush administration has also taken a hand in the case and has ordered power plants to reduce mercury pollution by 50 percent within 15 years; however, environmentalists have called for a 90 percent mercury emission reduction.

Health and Place February 17, 2005

Reuters March 16, 2005


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