Chemist says mercury linked to autism spike
By Rob Zaleski
December 16, 2005
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Rob Zaleski is a 32-year veteran of the news business. His columns appear
every Monday and Wednesday in the Communities section.
His detractors call him an alarmist.
"They hate me," Mike Wagnitz acknowledged in an interview this week.
But if that's what it takes to get people's attention, hey, call him an
alarmist or anything else you want, Wagnitz said with a laugh.
A senior state chemist, Wagnitz is making health experts uneasy because of
his public statements urging people to think twice before getting a flu
shot this season. He thinks the shots are especially risky for pregnant
women and young kids.
Why? Because about 95 percent of the doses being distributed this winter
contain thimerosal, the mercury-based preservative that Wagnitz and others
believe is responsible for the startling increase in autism cases in the
United States since the early 1990s.
The federal government says that's hokum, noting that despite years of
study there's no scientific evidence that mercury in vaccines causes
autism. However, as a precaution, the U.S. Public Health Service in the
late 1990s asked manufacturers to start phasing thimerosal out of childhood
In fact, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention say flu shots are absolutely essential for
pregnant women and infants 6 to 23 months old. As for potential risks, they
claim that the amount of thimerosal in a child's dose is so tiny it poses
virtually no risk at all - a claim Wagnitz says is "pure propaganda."
Still, health experts admit they have more questions than answers about
autism. As the National Institute of Mental Health noted in its 2005 annual
report on autism to Congress, "There are no effective means to prevent the
disorder, no fully effective treatment and no cure."
Wagnitz, 52, has been speaking out about the possible link between vaccines
and autism for several years now, ever since his daughter Josie, now 8, was
diagnosed with autism in 2001.
To say he was shocked would be a colossal understatement, says Wagnitz,
"because, frankly, I'd never even heard of autism before that. I was this
trusting person who just did what the doctor told me to do."
Then he began doing some research, and the deeper he dug, the more troubled
he became. After doing "some simple fifth-grade math," Wagnitz says he
figured out that the amount of mercury in flu shots - 50,000 micrograms per
liter in the multi-dose vials - is 250 times the amount that's considered
safe for liquid hazardous waste.
That's when he got mad and began started asking some very pointed
questions. So have a lot of other people - including Robert Kennedy Jr.
who, like Wagnitz, believes that all vaccines should be thimerosal-free
despite the higher costs involved.
They want to know why, according to some scientists, the estimated number
of cases of autism has increased a mind-boggling 1,500 percent since 1991,
when the number of childhood vaccinations doubled.
And they want to know why one in every 166 children has autism today
compared to one in every 2,500 in 1991.
"The government says they're just doing a better job of noticing it," says
Wagnitz. But anyone who's been around autistic kids and knows how loud and
disruptive they can be finds that extremely hard to believe, he says.
"I mean, like Robert Kennedy Jr. said, 'Missing a kid with autism is like
missing a train wreck.' So when they say they're doing a better job of
finding them, I say, 'Then where are all the 30-year-olds and 40-year-olds
Though he certainly doesn't relish the criticism, Wagnitz says his skin is
"thicker than leather right now" and that he'll continue to speak out until
all vaccines are thimerosal-free.
"No one wants to talk about my message. All they want to do is destroy the
messenger," he says. "I mean, liquid waste needs to go to a hazardous waste
site if it contains more than 200 parts per billion of mercury. So anyone
with common sense would say you don't want to be injecting people with 250
times more mercury than hazardous waste.
"What more do you need to know?"