It’s Mercury, Damnit! Run for the Hills!

One of the common complaints of parents who believe that vaccines are responsible for their child(ren)’s autism is that there is mercury in vaccines and mercury is a neurotoxin, damnit! All mercury is bad! Okay, gotcha. Mercury bad. Yum, tuna fish sandwich. Seriously, you don’t get to kvetch and moan that thimerosal in vaccines did it and then go eat or let your child eat tuna or any other food with mercury in it. You are gonna be some hungry folks! Best stay away from canned products and baking powder with the aluminum, aluminum foil and aluminum cookware, and for God’s sake, make sure your child gets no soap in his mouth, either (another common complaint: aluminum).

What most folks-in-the-know do when faced with these ranting parents (who then may go on to talk about Cutler’s protocol and deranged mineral transport) is to carefully explain the difference in pure mercury, methyl mercury and thimerosal, which breaks down into ethyl mercury and thiosalicylate (CDC). Some of the in-the-know folks (trying new labels on) may then invoke the dihydrogen monoxide gambit, which never gets old --okay, it does, but it points out nicely that the not-in-the-know folks don’t understand the chemistry thing too well. That’s okay; it’s a heavy, deep (potentially boring) subject that most people don’t want to wade into too deeply. It’s a whole lot easier to read some guy off the internet who promises to cure your child of autism if you follow his protocol. It’s wrong, but it’s fun, right?

So, let’s look at the mercury gambit some, since the mercury militia uses it.

We’ll go over mercury, the element. According to National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), mercury is “found throughout the environment.” It has “three forms: as a pure metal (as found in thermometers), as inorganic salts, and as an organic derivative. Humans and wildlife are exposed to all three forms, though most of the mercury in the environment is in metallic or inorganic forms. Organic forms of mercury are more easily absorbed when ingested and some forms are eliminated from the body very slowly. Because mercury is everywhere, it is not possible to prevent all exposure to it. Exposure to high levels of mercury can be toxic” (NIAID).

It should be noted that thermometers don’t use mercury anymore, although they once did.

Note that NIAID pointed out that” high levels of mercury can be toxic.” High levels.

At what point is the brain most sensitive to mercury damage? According to the NIAID, it is the “developing brain (before birth) is the most sensitive to damage by methyl mercury.”

Ng et al. (2007) write that “thimerosal in blood after vaccination is rapidly excreted in stool.” In addition, Ng et al, notes that no “significant elevation of blood and urine mercury levels after vaccination has been reported.” This would seem to exonerate thimerosal in vaccines as a cause of heavy metal toxicity. After all, that’s part of what the vaccines-ruined-my-life crowd is running with. Autism is: heavy metal toxicity, an auto-immune disorder, sticky blood, Lyme disease, activated monkey virus, too much testosterone, etc.

Another difference between thimerosal and methyl mercury is the route of exposure. The mercury militia goes on endlessly about mercury being injected into the bloodstream (we know that ain’t right) and the methyl mercury gets pooped out, so it’s okay. According to the NIAID,

“Prior to the removal of thimerosal from childhood recommended vaccines, infants were exposed to ethyl mercury by intramuscular injection during vaccination, not by ingestion.” This sentence would set these folks off because that’s a base lie: thimerosal is still in vaccines! Childhood recommended vaccines. So, not a lie. I know, then they’d rant that there was still thimerosal in the vaccines at their doctor’s offices in 2004, blah.

Let’s say we’re one of these mercury-is-mercury-is-mercury folks and we’ve read through the CDC, the NIAID, and hell, even Ng and his buddies’ paper, and we still aren’t buying it. Nope. It’s the mercury in that vaccine, and it got in my kid’s brain and it made him autistic. I know what I know. My child is my science. Ng et al. (2007) notes that “no active transport mechanism for ethylmercury exists in the BBB. Also, the larger molecular size and faster decomposition of ethylmercury further prevent its accumulation.” (84). Uh, huh? BBB is the blood brain barrier. Ethyl mercury can’t get through the blood brain barrier because of size and lack of active transport.

That’s a lie, too, of course, because they’ve read some study with monkeys and thimerosal and how they were all autistic after getting the thimerosal and that proves it. Sigh. SafeMinds, Generation Rescue, and AoA love the Burbacher study, which can be found here: http://www.generationrescue.org/pdf/burbacher.pdf. **Updated: not the only study the mercury militia use concerning thimerosal and monkey brains; I conflated this with the new Thoughtful House monkeys made autistic study; Burbacher doesn't say it made them more autistic because he didn't measure autism in monkeys--hah, if your monkey lines up things, he might be autistic--he looked at the levels of inorganic mercury in the brain. That's how the mercury militia uses the Burbacher study: as proof it makes you autistic.**

It’s beyond what I have time to dig into here, but the crux of the Burbacher study appears to be that in these monkey brains, more inorganic mercury was deposited in the brain in those who were given thimerosal through intermuscular injection. How ethyl mercury, an ORGANIC mercury, managed to “cause” INORGANIC mercury to be deposited, well that’s a question, isn’t it? And it is a question that Burbacher ends his journal article asking. He really doesn't draw any strong conclusions other than methyl mercury not being particularly useful as a comparison.

Burbacher’s interconnections with SafeMinds, AoA, Blaxill, and the Geiers cannot be overlooked. Using Blaxill and the Geiers' as reputable sources in his article limits his credibility, wouldn't you say? Should not be overlooked. Whale.to folks are pretty fond of Burbacher, as well.  Plus, based on Ng et al.'s reporting that ethyl mercury doesn't get past the blood brain barrier, well, it's interesting, certainly, and bears more examination, more than I have time for in this piece. It will go on to my list of things to look at.

Changing tactics slightly what about the argument that mercury poisoning and autism are the same condition? Ng et al. (2007) writes (and I’m too busy to hunt down the original article, but will when time permits): “Nelson and Bauman reviewed the two diseases and concluded that these two conditions have distinct differences because the common symptoms of mercury poisoning such as ataxia, constricted visual fi elds, peripheral neuropathy, hypertension, skin eruption and thrombocytopenia are never seen in autis(-)tic children” (84).

What do we take away from this morning's worth of looking at the mercury militia's argument that "it's the mercury, damnit!"? The IOM's Immunization Safety Review is linked over to the right. It'd be a good thing to read. There appears to be no reputable scientific evidence to link thimerosal to mercury being deposited in the brain. Burbacher even noted that thimerosal is excreted from the blood much faster than methyl mercury. Burbacher didn't even draw the conclusion that thimerosal caused autism.

If you've spent any time with the mercury militia, you already know that they aren't going to let scientific evidence get in the way of their beliefs. You can show them patiently or stridently, it doesn't matter, that ethylmercury isn't methylmercury or inorganic mercury, you can point out that there is no link between autism and thimerosal, only to have them move the goalposts on you. Oh yeah, well, it may not be just the thimerosal, it's all them toxins in the vaccines! Those chemicals are bad for you!

Sigh. Listen, if you're one of those parents who has decided it had to be the vaccines because your child was vaccinated and then later diagnosed with autism, and you don't see that you could as easily substitute "attended the circus" for "was vaccinated" or "rode a pony" or "went on a trip," then it might be because of your need for the certainty of an answer for why this happened to you and membership in a group that will help feed your fire and anger for having your world upended with the reality of having a child with special needs (**I know it's wordy!**). If you've got two or more children with autism  and you're blaming the vaccines.... well, there's quite a few out there with multiple children on the spectrum who are doing just that. One, I get, I suppose. Two? Three? Really? Might be time to look in a mirror, you know?

There's quite a few of us with multiple children on the spectrum who look at ourselves and our children, our extended families, and we don't need to reach for some outer explanation of a harm done to us. We don't need someone or something to blame. Our children are our children and we see ourselves reflected in them. They may have more significant issues to deal with than we did, but we see the spectrum. You know, sort of a when our powers combine kind of thing? We read the neurological research, we note that difficult pregnancies are implicated, that there are genetic susceptibilities, and we go, huh, well there you go, and we move on, thinking our children to be absolutely delightful, challenging, often difficult people who we wouldn't trade for the world. We bust our asses to help them navigate this world successfully. We bust our asses trying to make the world an easier place.

You folks on the vaccines-did-this-to-me front who think it fine and dandy to send death threats to health officials who stand up and note the lack of scientific evidence for autism being caused by vaccines are a huge part of the problem our children collectively face. You are the bullies who use intimidation and threats to push others around. You are the people who bully those who are disabled, disadvantaged, different. You. And you subject your children to potentially harmful, absolutely unscientific treatments all in the need to recover the perfect child you believe was stolen from you.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Mercury and Thimerosal. 22 Nov. 2009. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Concerns/thimerosal/

National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Vaccines. 22 Nov. 2009. http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/vaccines/research/vaccines.htm

NG, D. K., et al. (2007). “Low-level chronic mercury exposure in children and adolescents: Meta-analysis.” Pediatrics International 49, 80–87

On a side note, take a peek at this from AutismDiva from 2005 that I found this morning as I was looking for information relating to this subject: http://autismdiva.blogspot.com/2005/11/you-wanna-go-where.html.

If anyone has good links to criticism of the Burbacher study, please post them here.


Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

I really can't understand the reasoning of those who believe in the vaccine conspiracy, especially since

1) There are autistic adults alive today who were around before vaccines

2) Autism is seen in every place on the planet, including places where no one is able to receive vaccines

How does the Mercury Milita explain these two points?

And I don't know much about the monkey study but would like to read more.

KWombles said...

Hi, Stephanie,

Burbacher's study is here: http://www.generationrescue.org/pdf/burbacher.pdf.

Overall, his work appears to be dealin with methyl mercury exposure and methanol on developing fetuses to see if it results in long term neurological damage. I don't know how Burbacher got involved in the thimerosal/autism thing, nor why he thinks Blaxill or the Geier's work is reputable or repeatable, but his credibility takes a hit because of the AoA/GenRes/SafeMinds connection.

Hope you are having a good weekend.

AutismNewsBeat said...

Here's Ng's abstract:

Pediatr Int. 2007 Feb;49(1):80-7.
Low-level chronic mercury exposure in children and adolescents: Meta-analysis.

* Ng DK,
* Chan CH,
* Soo MT,
* Lee RS.

Department of Paediatrics, Kwong Wah Hospital, Kowloon, Hong Kong.

Background: Mercury is a well-known neurotoxin. There are three kinds of mercury exposure: elemental mercury poisoning, inorganic mercury poisoning and organomercury poisoning. Organomercury is the most toxic. Twenty-four hour urine for mercury and blood mercury are the gold standards for diagnosis of mercury poisoning, including low-level chronic mercury exposure. Other tests for mercury level are discussed. The purpose of the present paper was to review recent data on the nature, pathophysiology, pharmacokinetics, diagnostic methods, treatment and the linkage to neurodevelopmental disabilities of mercury exposure in children. Methods: A literature search was undertaken of MEDLINE (1980-2003), and American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Dental Association, World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control websites. The search string 'mercury' was used in MEDLINE and articles were selected as appropriate by two independent reviewers. All relevant information was reviewed and data were extracted by two independent reviewers. Results: Based on the meta-analysis of the accuracy of hair mercury, hair mercury levels correlated with mercury level in blood (sample size weighted correlation coefficient, r w = 0.61), with 24 h urine ( r w = 0.46) and with cord blood ( r w = 0.64). However, the correlation for hair mercury level with 24 h urine level and blood level was not high enough to replace them in clinical decision-making of individual patient. Epidemiological evidence has shown that low-level mercury poisoning is not a cause of autism (relative risk = 0.49, 95%CI = 0.36-0.66). The risk of neurodevelopmental disabilities from low-level exposure to methylmercury from the regular consumption of fish is still controversial even after combining results from different epidemiological studies worldwide. There is a lack of data in the literature about the effect of chelation therapy in children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. Conclusion: Mercury poisoning should be diagnosed only with validated methods. There is no evidence to support the association between mercury poisoning and autism

KWombles said...

:-) I have the Ng study on pdf if anyone would like it emailed to them.

Ken, do you know if anyone directly challenged Burbacher? Or the mercury militia's interpretation of the study? What seems to be more the problem is how Burbacher's study is being used, rather than his conclusions themselves.

davidbrown said...

As far as sources of aluminum, don't forget rocks and derived sediment: Many minerals have aluminum, including all feldspars, which are literallly the most common minerals on Earth. A kid who eats a lump of mud could injest more aluminum than is in a thousand vaccines.

davidbrown said...

"thermometers don’t use mercury anymore"
This needs a qualifier: Older thermometers are undoubtedly still in use in the US, and all bets are off in the developing world.

KWombles said...

Fair enough, David. There are folks out there who may have thermometers that are more than a decade old.


"Over the last decade in the United States and Europe, the mercury thermometer has gone the way of the rotary dial phone and analog television: virtually phased out."

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

If autism stems from mercury, aluminum or other organic and/or inorganic metals, as the mercury milita say, why do some insist that autism has only been around since vaccines were introduced?

Organic metals have been around since the beginning of time, so therefore, according to the vaccine theory, this is the cause (organic metals) of autism having been around for ages, not the fact that it is probably some kind of genetic mutation.

How does the mercury milita explain other disorders? Since no gene has yet been found for autism it is easy for the mercury milita to claim intoxication. But what about schizophrenia, bipolar, other genetic mutations related to autism (e.g. Fragile X)? Are all these considered to be neurological problems, except for autism?

I don't know much about this debate so I am just curious.

kathleen said...

Well said..Although, I don't think the science really matters to some. They want to be mad-and dammit, nothing is gonna get in the way of that..
I have a question though...what in the hell is "sticky blood"?

KWombles said...

Kathleen, the sticky blood comes from Heckenlively's http://www.ageofautism.com/2009/06/a-tale-of-autistic-blood.html.


Yup, no science needed. And he teaches it. Hmmm.

Corina Becker said...

I told my mom about the whole "mercury causes autism theory", and she made a funny face. She remarked "if that's true, then your brother should be autistic as well, since he used to break open mercury-containing thermometers with his teeth."

Also, with the "Autism is: heavy metal toxicity, an auto-immune disorder, sticky blood, Lyme disease, activated monkey virus, too much testosterone, etc.", that does include "acquired-auto-immune disorder misdiagnosed as autism", right?

lurker said...

"How ethyl mercury, an ORGANIC mercury, managed to “cause” INORGANIC mercury to be deposited, well that’s a question, isn’t it?"
Both ethyl and methyl mercuries, are dealkylated to inorganic mercury.

"Burbacher even noted that thimerosal is excreted from the blood much faster than methyl mercury." But ethyl mercury is dealkylated to inorganic mercury faster than methyl mercury is. Total mercury levels in brains have been seen to be higher due to exposure to methyl mercury compared to ethyl mercury, but the percentage of the total mercury in the brain that was inorganic, was seen to be higher for ethyl compared to methyl mercury exposure. And the half life in the brain for inorganic mercury is much longer than for organic forms of mercury.


"Ng et al. (2007) notes that “no active transport mechanism for ethylmercury exists in the BBB. Also, the larger molecular size and faster decomposition of ethylmercury further prevent its accumulation.”" I wonder how much of a transporter is needed for the passing of ethylmercury, which contains a nonpolar ethyl group, which may impart some lipid solubility to the whole molecule. The BBB doesn't keep out nonpolar molecules, even large ones like steroid hormones. The BBB isn't completely formed at birth, and is absent in some brain areas.

KWombles said...

Well, heck, Lurker, that's a reasonable comment, so I'll leave it be. A letter to the journal isn't the same as a peer-reviewed study, but it's a start. I'll look into it deeper over Thanksgiving.

KWombles said...

"While the scientific literature supports the concept that MeHg is a potent developmental neurotoxin,
the assertion that thimerosal leads to developmental disorders in children is hypothetical and unsubstantiated, resting on indirect and incomplete information, primarily
from analogies with MeHg."

Just a snippet from

I'll be digging some more and I expect turn it into an additional post over the next several days.