Tag Archives: Dan Olmsted

Mark Green Turns Yellow: Denies Vaccines Cause Autism Post-Complaint

Congressman and ER Dr. Mark Green, markgreen4tn.com

Following a vaccine troll‘s medical board complaint against the ER doctor and congressman from Tennessee, Rep. Mark Green released a statement saying he believes the CDC and FDA’s lies about vaccines after meeting with them. Following his election to Congress in 2018, he said he will stand up to the CDC and ask for the real data on vaccines. Autism Investigated even contacted his office and offered to meet with him at the time.

But Rep. Green came under fire from Tennessee’s baby-killing Senior Senator Lamar Alexander, who insisted vaccines were safe. He then invited teenage vaccine propaganda prop Ethan Lindenberger to testify against his mother for not vaccinating him at a Senate HELP Committee hearing. After that, Alexander coauthored a pro-vaccine op-ed in The Tennessean with just-elected Senator Marsha Blackburn. Before Green was elected to Congresss, Blackburn was the congressional representative for his district. Now Green is claiming to trust the CDC after meeting with CDC, go figure…

In response to Alexander and Blackburn’s op-ed, Autism Investigated submitted a letter to the editor but it was never published. It pointed out how Lamar Alexander allowed the vaccine industry to murder infants in his home state when he was Governor of Tennessee. The proof is in an internal memo of Wyeth in which the company agreed to disperse vaccine lots across geographic areas to hide that vaccines cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The memo is reproduced below and was uncovered by the late journalist Dan Olmsted.


As an ER doctor, Mark Green knows his colleagues have to deal with the mess caused by vaccine companies like Wyeth. Instead of having the courage to clean it up, Mark Green has turned yellow and swept it under the emergency room curtains.

DISAPPOINTED TO DEATH: The Long, Slow Suicide of Dan Olmsted (RIP)

When news hit of Dan’s death two years ago, it was a shock to everyone. Autism Investigated was no exception. The words “heart attack” and “stroke” came to mind, certainly never suicide. Autism Investigated dedicated a week-long tribute to Dan Olmsted, and then the cause of death became news: “overdose.” He wasn’t an addict, and he was one of the last people to make a fatal mistake when it came to medication. What happened was his realization that despite holding the title of AgeofAutism.com editor, he had no editorial independence and never did.

The tragic story of Dan’s death really begins in 2013, the year of Autism Investigated’s beginning. The 2012 congressional autism hearing was hijacked by a sponsor/editor of the site who even coauthored all of Dan’s books. He killed the story of the hijacking on his own blog. After the article about the fiasco ran elsewhere, Dan wrote a short post smearing the piece:

It’s bad journalism, glaringly unsourced and without giving the “targets” an opportunity to give their version of events. I stand by the choices I’ve made in dealing with this unfortunate situation, and will be following up in the near future.

Instead of following up, he ran a statement by the sponsoring organization behind the congressional hijacking. Only after that did he agree to publish a follow-up piece by the author of the original story. As reader outrage at the congressional fiasco mounted in the post’s comments, Dan closed the thread without consent of the author. “Go in peace for all mankind,” he derisively ordered his own readers.

The author of the piece voiced opposition to the site’s censorship of comments, before getting banned from ever contributing anything to the website again. Subsequently, another site was founded. That site is Autism Investigated.

But despite how heavily controlled the discussion became on Age of Autism, Dan could not ignore Autism Investigated’s reporting. When Autism Investigated broke the news of the 2013 congressional hearing cancellation, Dan appeared in the comments just to deny that a related post that suddenly disappeared from his site wasn’t taken down deliberately. He was so angry that he then wrote a post calling Autism Investigated “web conspiracist.” He also did not take well to being reminded of the fact that the 2012 congressional hearing hijacking involved the same key players as the 2013 cancellation. When reminded of their sponsorship behind his site, he dismissively said, “I confess! Shoot me now.”

“Shoot me now.” In just a few years, those words would take on a whole new meaning.

A year after the cancellation, the congressional committee that hosted the 2012 hearing and cancelled the 2013 one would have a new chair in Jason Chaffetz. And about a year after Chaffetz’s new chairmanship began, Dan Olmsted made clear he was not a fan of congressional inaction:

You’d think [Congressman] Cummings, after saying “something’s wrong with this picture” of multiple vaccines and a soaring autism rate, would take the logical next step and demand Thompson himself be called as a witness. (Even if Chaffetz said no, the public stink would be progress).

And yet in January 2017 – during the transition period – Congressman Chaffetz finally committed to hold a hearing on vaccine safety issues. The idea was shot down by Dan Olmsted’s books coauthor and site sponsor/co-editor who had played the instrumental role in the congressional failures of yesteryears: Mark Blaxill.

One would think the autism community would learn its lesson about involving someone like him. Yet wealthy vaccine crime apologist JB Handley insisted on guaranteeing Blaxill’s involvement in congressional outreach.

Days after the proposed hearing was shot down and the draft of his final book with Blaxill was completed, Dan Olmsted took his own life. Autism Investigated wouldn’t find out about how he died for another month. Three days before his suicide and on the day of the inauguration, he wrote in a final message to Autism Investigated:

I join you in wishing trump well. My progressive affinities have moderated lately and I am optimistic, as I have to say you were before the election

Knowing what may eventually happen, Dan Olmsted decided to die optimistic.

BACKING DOWN: President Trump says, “They have to get their shots.”

Well this election cycle didn’t last long for Autism Investigated. Yesterday, the Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden officially declared his candidacy. As vice president, Biden called on children to get an HPV vaccine with their MMR vaccine. Today, President Trump has called on people to “get their shots.” Asked about measles, he said, “this is really going around now.”

In 2016, Autism Investigated endorsed Donald Trump for president. At the time, both his primary opponents and both Democrat candidates were bought by the vaccine industry. One of those candidates is again running for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders. There is no one in the very wide field of Democratic candidates who express any skepticism of vaccines. Even President Trump’s only 2020 primary challenger was the running mate of a third party candidate in 2016 who endorsed vaccine mandates.

Without absolving President Trump of responsibility for his own remarks, the issue was mishandled from the very beginning. Despite repeated efforts by Autism Investigated to get infiltrator Mark Blaxill away from any involvement with Congress due to his 2012 hearing hijacking and instrumental role in the 2013 hearing collapse, he was part of congressional discussions during the transition period anyway. He played a key role in shooting down a proposal by then-Congressman Jason Chaffetz to hold a hearing on vaccine safety issues. Days later, Blaxill’s books coauthor and Ageofautism.com editor Dan Olmsted committed suicide. Blaxill also met with Donald Trump twice.

It wasn’t all Blaxill though, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. showed a blatant double-standard between President Trump and his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama. Under Obama, Kennedy delayed release of his book on the mercury-based preservative thimerosal for a year and then released a hacked version for another year before finally publishing it in full. Only after Autism Investigated leaked the full manuscript did he do the latter. Just one year into Trump’s presidency by contrast, Kennedy decided it was a good idea to bash him to a pro-vaccine paper. Just one month ago, Kennedy also called President Trump the “worst president ever” at a press conference at Yale.

Kennedy has also refused serious efforts at reaching out to the Trump Administration. Last year, Kennedy shot down a letter Autism Investigated proposed for him to send to the NIH director with President Trump copied. Days later, Kennedy launched a campaign premised on a discredited doctor’s false representation of himself as a government whistleblower. Lately, Kennedy has been ignoring the government’s cover-up of vaccine injury in favor of asking for “placebo-controlled trials.” Of course, his uncle created the vaccine program.

Then there is the fact that the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who appointed the special counsel is the brother of CDC’s vaccine director Nancy Messonnier. She lied to Congress about vaccine risks with Dr. Anthony Fauci last February. Just last week, Rosenstein joined the current attorney general at a press conference to announce the release of the special counsel’s now-completed report. Rosenstein was reportedly part of a decision not to charge President Trump with obstruction of justice.

Regardless of the reasons that led up to this point, Trump has made a clear departure from what he said two years ago. In 2017, he promised “I’m not gonna back down” from addressing problems with vaccines. In 2019, it’s now clear he has.

Attorney John Morgan Apologizes For Telling The Truth

A high-profile lawyer should not apologize for saying what’s already on the minds of virtually every anti-vaccinationist and vaccination skeptic. But that’s exactly what Attorney John Morgan of Morgan & Morgan did after producing perfectly reasonable tweets and Facebook posts like that which is above.

No, Morgan did not say that autism, ADHD, depression, pain or poor concentration cause school shootings. However, they do cause children to be much more likely to take medications like those he listed above. What all mass school shootings have in common is that the shooters were all on psychotropic drugs.

The idea of drugs causing people to commit homicide is nothing new. Age of Autism‘s late editor Dan Olmsted first became drawn to vaccination issues from his previous investigations of the anti-malarial drug Lariam. At first he thought it was only linked to suicide, only to learn that it could do even worse. The same certainly seems true of numerous other drugs, especially psychotropics.

Just don’t say that. Certainly don’t suggest what causes (*cough* vaccinations *cough*) people to have conditions that get them put on such medication in the first place. One can only imagine what Dan would think of such language-policing insanity that causes people to go from making observations like that above to all-too-familiar dreck like…

AI Needs YOUR Help Tracking Down Lancet Father 11, Richard Demirjian

Letter from father to Brian Deer and Dan Olmsted, 2011 – BMJ Deceived Lancet Parent Into Attacking Dr. Andrew Wakefield, Citation 5

His name is Richard Demirjian. His alma mater is UC Berkeley, and he is an engineer. His wife’s name is Aida, and they apparently donated a large sum of money to found an autism charity in the early nineties. Autism Investigated has reached out to the charity, but there’s no obvious way to get through to him directly.

So Autism Investigated is reaching out to you the reader. We need help tracking down Mr. Demirjian and confronting him with the fact that he’s been misled by the British Medical Journal (BMJ). If you have any information about his whereabouts and/or contact information, feel free to post in the comments below.

It is not enough to out Mr. Demirjian, we need him to publicly take back what he is quoted as claiming in the BMJ. That has partially happened, but not fully happened. So we want BMJ’s sole parent witness to denounce the journal and take back what he said about Dr. Andrew Wakefield. Demirjian owes it to the entire autism community and to himself.

He and his wife did apparently commit $60,000 to found the California non-profit, Behavioral Intervention for AutismAutism Investigated has reached out to this group to hopefully get through to Mr. Demirjian. Any further help though would be greatly appreciated.

BMJ Deceived Lancet Parent Into Attacking Dr. Andrew Wakefield

The British Medical Journal (BMJ)’s commissioned writer Brian Deer duped the father of the 11th child described in The Lancet paper into believing his son’s case was misrepresented. That father, Richard Demirjian, was led to believe the paper said his son’s autistic symptoms began weeks after vaccination when the report said no such thing. The Lancet paper was perfectly consistent with what Demirjian said happened to his son.

So Autism Investigated wrote BMJ editor Dr. Fiona Godlee about how Deer misrepresented Demirjian’s son. Yes, it was that Dr. Godlee who Autism Investigated’s editor confronted back in 2011.

Despite past history, she replied cordially:

Thank you for your message. Might you or Richard Demirjian send a rapid response to the article on BMJ.com. We can then ask Brian Deer to respond. Best wishes. Fiona Godlee

But two months after Autism Investigated submitted a rapid response at her invitation, she coldly rejected it:

I have now had an opportunity to discuss this with our lawyer. We will not be publishing your rapid response. It is highly defamatory of Brian Deer and the allegations you raise have already been refuted in detail by Brian Deer on his website. Best wishes, Fiona Godlee

When asked for details, Godlee gave no reply.

In any case, read the below response and see for yourself if it defames Brian Deer. It doesn’t, but it shows Deer and the BMJ defamed Wakefield – in large part by deceiving parent Richard Demirjian.

Lancet father 11 hammers a nail into the coffin of Deer’s fallacious allegations

Brian Deer republished his Sunday Times accusations in the BMJ knowing that they were refuted in Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s 58-page press complaint against him and against the newspaper that ran the article two years prior.(1) Deer’s justification for doing so was the GMC’s ruling in favor of his earlier accusations of unethical research.(2) He has also misled a parent of one of The Lancet paper children (child 11) into believing The Lancet paper misrepresented the child’s case, but the wording in The Lancet paper itself confirms that the child’s case was not misrepresented.(3) The GMC’s findings have been overturned,(4) and a letter from the parent corroborates that The Lancet paper accurately represented his son’s condition.(5)

Two months after the article was published, Brian Deer received a letter from the parent of The Lancet child 11 that directly contradicts Deer’s account. Yet no correction has ever been made in the BMJ.

In the first article of Brian Deer’s MMR series for BMJ, Deer wrote of The Lancet Child 11:

But child 11’s case must have proved a disappointment. Records show his behavioural symptoms started too soon. “His developmental milestones were normal until 13 months of age,” notes the discharge summary. “In the period 13-18 months he developed slow speech patterns and repetitive hand movements. Over this period his parents remarked on his slow gradual deterioration.”

That put the first symptom two months earlier than reported in the Lancet, and a month before the boy received the MMR vaccination. And this was not the only anomaly to catch the father’s eye. What the paper reported as a “behavioural symptom” was noted in the records as a chest infection.(6)

However, Deer’s claim that child 11 regressed before the vaccine was disputed by child 11’s father in the letter he wrote to Deer (that is currently posted on Deer’s website):

One of the incorrect statements in my son’s discharge report was that autistic symptoms were seen from 13-18 months, while the vaccination was at 15 months. This is clearly inaccurate as his symptoms began several months after the MMR, as reflected in my initial correspondence to the Royal Free requesting my son be included in the research study.(5)

In the private meeting between Deer and father 11 that was referenced in Deer’s article, Deer had apparently misled the father into believing The Lancet paper misrepresented his son’s case. In that same letter to Deer, father 11 echoed Deer’s false statement that The Lancet paper put child 11’s first autistic symptoms at one week after the vaccine when in fact, the paper makes clear that that was only when child 11’s first behavioral symptom (associated, as also described in Table 2, with recurrent “viral pneumonia”). The first symptom, that could have been any of a number of behaviors such as permanent or chronic change in sleep pattern, occurred after vaccination. The table father 11 referred to in The Lancet paper makes no mention of onset of first autistic symptoms.(3) Father 11 corroborates The Lancet paper and contradicts Deer’s BMJ article.

Despite Deer being told by father 11 directly that his son did not regress until after his vaccination, Deer made no effort to correct the misinformation in his BMJ article. On Deer’s personal website, he even continues to cast doubt on father 11’s account:

Which is true for child 11? Who can say, years later? The father says one thing, the medical records another. Nobody can time-travel back to the 1990s. And in lawsuits, it is the records that usually count. But, whichever version is right, Wakefield’s story was not. Neither can be reconciled with The Lancet.(7)

The fact is there is only one correct version: The Lancet paper account corroborated by father 11 twice, both in his correspondence with the hospital and with Deer. The incorrect version is the faulty discharge summary exploited by Deer to mislead. This is not the first time that evidence was submitted to BMJ that dismantles the article’s veracity post-publication.

When other evidence was previously brought to the journal in November 2011 that also supported The Lancet papers findings,(8)(9) Deer deflected by referring back to the GMC findings.(10) Though Deer cited them to add credibility to all his allegations, the findings themselves have been deemed unsustainable by an English High Court ruling.

In 2012, Justice Mitting overturned the GMC decision that The Lancet paper had misrepresented its patient population, was unethical and was part of a litigation-funded project.(4) By extension, the paper’s lead author Dr. Andrew Wakefield could not have been dishonest for not disclosing that the paper was funded by litigation or was part of that project when neither was the case.

In fact, the court decision refutes all the GMC findings that Dr. Wakefield broke any rule of professional conduct as laid out in GMC’s Good medical practice guidance.(11)(12)(13) Likewise, there is no existing justification for the paper’s retraction.(14) The Lancet knows this. When I confronted The Lancet ombudsman, Dr. Malcolm Molyneux, with the fact that the GMC findings that served as the basis for the retraction were killed, all he could say was:

In the retraction statement, the editors of The Lancet stated that “several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect. In particular….’” The retraction then mentions the enrolment procedure and ethical clearance, but implies that there remain other elements on which the decision was based.(15)

As the above statement reveals, the ombudsman is unable to state a single reason for the paper to remain retracted. Furthermore, there can be no “other elements on which the decision was based” since the retraction statement only cites the GMC findings – now overturned.(14)

Of Brian Deer’s many false claims, among the most egregious is his deceiving father 11 and misrepresenting child 11’s case.

1.     http://www.autisminvestigated.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Complaint_to_UK_PCC1.pdf

2.     http://briandeer.com/solved/gmc-charge-sheet.pdf

3.     See Table 2: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(97)11096-0/fulltext

4.     http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2012/503.rtf

5.     http://briandeer.com/solved/dan-olmsted-child-11.pdf

6.     http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.c5347

7.     http://briandeer.com/solved/dan-olmsted.htm

8.     http://www.bmj.com/rapid-response/2011/11/09/re-how-case-against-mmr-vaccine-was-fixed

9.     http://www.bmj.com/rapid-response/2011/11/17/re-pathology-reports-solve-%E2%80%9Cnew-bowel-disease%E2%80%9D-riddle

10.   Deer dismissed slides from The Lancet paper co-author Dr. Andrew Anthony later supplied by Dr. David Lewis on the excuse that Dr. Wakefield could have tampered with them. The only supporting evidence Deer offered of tampering was the GMC’s ruling that Dr. Wakefield had been “dishonest” based on the disciplinary findings that were since overturned. http://briandeer.com/solved/david-lewis-2.htm

11.    See 12a, which proves Dr. Wakefield was not professionally obligated to disclose his personal connection to litigation or his patent application to the editor of The Lancet. http://www.gmc-uk.org/guidance/ethical_guidance/30191.asp

12.    See page 8, endnote 7, which refers to the National Research Ethics Service (NRES) rules for when Research Ethics Committee (REC) approval is necessary. (NRES link in endnote no longer works) http://www.gmc-uk.org/Good_practice_in_research_and_consent_to_research.pdf_58834843.pdf

13.    NRES rules prove Dr. Wakefield’s birthday party blood draws did not require REC approval because they were not done on patients, therefore falling outside GMC’s authority to make any judgement on the matter. http://www.hra.nhs.uk/documents/2013/09/does-my-project-require-rec-review.pdf

14.    http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(10)60175-4/fulltext

15.    http://www.autisminvestigated.com/the-lancet-dr-andrew-wakefield/

My Final Exchange with Dan Olmsted: Leaving Progressivism

It is with great sadness that Autism Investigated relays the announcement that Dan Olmsted – Age of Autism’s founding editor – has passed away. While I have had my differences with him and the Age of Autism site, I will be forever grateful to him for his friendship, advice and platform for my views. I’ve always respected him as a journalist and have never forgotten the excellent work he has done over the years, and I just had a very friendly exchange with him on the day of the inauguration. I will never stop missing him, and I offered my sincere condolences to the entire Age of Autism team. Autism Investigated devoted the entire last week to posts honoring Dan Olmsted, which ended with a proper obituary. Since then, Age of Autism has given Autism Investigated permission to post its final exchange with Dan Olmsted. It is now published here in full. May we all honor Dan’s life by ending the autism epidemic to make America great again! – Jake Crosby, MPH
Hello Dan,
 
How are you doing?
 
I’m writing you because the title of Anne’s post is: “Senators on key panel reject Donald Trump’s skepticism about vaccines” [Senators Reject Trump’s Vaccine Panel], even though there is no indication any of them did directly except perhaps Al Franken. She was probably confused by the wording of the title: Senators on key panel reject Trump’s skepticism about vaccineBut that “key panel” is the Senate HELP committee they serve on; the members were not asked to weigh in on Kennedy’s panel – only on their overall opinions of vaccine safety. It doesn’t mean they outright reject Kennedy’s panel. STAT News didn’t provide their exact questions, so we really have no idea what they asked the Senators or if they even mentioned Trump.
Obviously it’s your blog to do whatever you want with, but at this sensitive time I would say it’s best to correct that. 
 
Happy new year and president.
 
Jake
 
——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Re: Senators Didn’t Reject Kennedy Panel Idea
From: Dan Olmsted 
Date: Fri, January 20, 2017 9:46 pm
To: info@autisminvestigated.com
Cc: amdachel@msn.com

Thanks for writing Jake we will check it out and let you know
 
I join you in wishing trump well. My progressive affinities have moderated lately and I am optimistic, as I have to say you were before the election
 
Best
 
Dan
 ——– Original Message ——–
Subject: RE: Senators Didn’t Reject Kennedy Panel Idea
From: <info@autisminvestigated.com>
Date: Mon, January 23, 2017 12:30 pm
To: “Dan Olmsted” 

My pleasure, Dan. Good post on Trump, btw. I don’t know if you saw my Newt Gingrich post, but he now supports RFK’s commission!
I’ll admit, I was much more optimistic about Trump being a good president if he won than I was about whether or not he’d win in the first place! So glad he did! 
And please dump the SJWs; they’re crazy, and you always struck me as a classical liberal guy anyway.
Best,
Jake 

Little did I know at the time that he would never get my final email to him. The following week, SJWs would burn Berkeley to cancel a talk by another gay journalist who had grown fed up with his community’s politics. Whether our opponents are wearing black ski masks or white lab coats, the best we can do to honor Dan’s life is to never shy from saying what needs to be said. It’s what Dan would want.

Remembering Dan Olmsted: The Journalist Who Taught Me That We Live in The Age of Autism

dan_award_3

It is with great sadness that Autism Investigated relays the announcement that Dan Olmsted – Age of Autism’s founding editor – has passed away. While I have had my differences with him and the Age of Autism site, I will be forever grateful to him for his friendship, advice and platform for my views. I’ve always respected him as a journalist and have never forgotten the excellent work he has done over the years, and I just had a very friendly exchange with him on the day of the inauguration. I will never stop missing him and offer my sincere condolences to the entire Age of Autism team. Autism Investigated devoted the entire week to posts honoring Dan Olmsted, and is now ending with a proper obituary. May we all honor Dan Olmsted’s life by ending the autism epidemic to make America great again! – Jake Crosby, MPH

How many journalists leave mainstream media to devote the rest of their lives to get to the bottom of the fastest growing neurological disorder among children in the United States? Because I can think of only one, and his name was Dan Olmsted.

“His loss leaves a huge vacuum for people who care about public health and children’s health in this country,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr. “He’s had as much integrity as any reporter I’ve ever met and more courage than any I’ve ever met. He was willing to walk away from his job for the sake of truth.”

Dan Olmsted passed away unexpectedly on January 23rd, 2016 at the age of 64, and is survived by his spouse Mark Milett and sister Rosamund McDonel Augsburger. The news came as a shock to many who knew him, myself included. That shock was compounded by Dan’s unceasing endurance, writing articles non-stop until two days before his death. He left behind an incredible library of articles and books going back over a decade – most about the autism epidemic, and all related to it in some way. Second only to coping with his loss, the biggest challenge for me was selecting which articles of his to re-post for Autism Investigated’s 7-day tribute to his life. There are just so many!

“Here was a true journalist, not a doctor or a scientist, who did what the medical and scientific communities didn’t do but should have done: investigate the cause of autism,” said exonerated British doctor Andrew Wakefield.

Finding some new insight or lead about the age of autism was never a problem for Dan. When I first met him in 2009, he told me about the time he decided to start writing his Age of Autism column for United Press International. His editor was reportedly concerned that he wouldn’t find enough material to keep the column going.

“Are you kidding me? I can write one every week,” he relayed back to me.

That was all the way back in 2005, but he kept the column going for two years straight until leaving the news agency. His commitment to the cause would only escalate in 2007 when he founded his own news website dedicated to the topic he loved writing about so much: AgeofAutism.com.

It was there that I got my start in 2008 when I first began contributing. While I was a contributing editor, I learned so much from him. It is hard to know where to begin. His ability to investigate, uncover and write was unique and unparalleled, and I always benefited from his advice.

But eventually, a rift grew within our friendship. And one day, that rift grew big enough that it forced me to leave and start my own site – thus marking the beginning of Autism Investigated. We had ceased speaking for awhile, with very little communication in recent years. And despite sometimes citing Age of Autism, Autism Investigated had also been critical of Age of Autism’s coverage at times – particularly during the election cycle.

But despite the mixed signals Age of Autism may have sent about our now-president before the election, Dan Olmsted eventually came around to fully embracing President Trump. On the day of the inauguration just three days before Dan’s death, I was fortunate to have had an extremely friendly email exchange with him where he expressed the same optimism about the new president as he would do the next day in his final “Weekly Wrap” post.

But most encouraging of all was his colorful plea at the very end, one that Autism Investigated hopes will soon become a reality again:

…there is much more common in our cause than anything we might occasionally fight over – that the autism epidemic is real, and excessive vaccinations are the cause.

Rebel Alliance, unite!

Dan Olmsted: The Amish anomaly

UPI_logo

It is with great sadness that Autism Investigated relays the announcement that Dan Olmsted – Age of Autism’s founding editor – has passed away. While I have had my differences with him and the Age of Autism site, I will be forever grateful to him for his friendship, advice and platform for my views. I’ve always respected him as a journalist and have never forgotten the excellent work he has done over the years, and I just had a very friendly exchange with him on the day of the inauguration. I will never stop missing him and offer my sincere condolences to the entire Age of Autism team. Autism Investigated will devote the entire week to posts honoring Dan Olmsted, including a proper obituary. May we all honor Dan Olmsted’s life by ending the autism epidemic to make America great again! – Jake Crosby, MPH

The Age of Autism: The Amish anomaly

By Dan Olmsted

UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL

Lancaster, PA, Apr. 18 (UPI) — Part 1 of 2.

Where are the autistic Amish? Here in Lancaster County, heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, there should be well over 100 with some form of the disorder.

I have come here to find them, but so far my mission has failed, and the very few I have identified raise some very interesting questions about some widely held views on autism.

The mainstream scientific consensus says autism is a complex genetic disorder, one that has been around for millennia at roughly the same prevalence. That prevalence is now considered to be 1 in every 166 children born in the United States.

Applying that model to Lancaster County, there ought to be 130 Amish men, women and children here with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Well over 100, in rough terms.

Typically, half would harbor milder variants such as Asperger’s Disorder or the catch-all Pervasive Development Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified — PDD-NOS for short.

So let’s drop those from our calculation, even though “mild” is a relative term when it comes to autism.

That means upwards of 50 Amish people of all ages should be living in Lancaster County with full-syndrome autism, the “classic autism” first described in 1943 by child psychiatrist Leo Kanner at Johns Hopkins University. The full-syndrome disorder is hard to miss, characterized by “markedly abnormal or impaired development in social interaction and communication and a markedly restricted repertoire of activities and interests,” according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Why bother looking for them among the Amish? Because they could hold clues to the cause of autism.

The first half-dozen articles in this ongoing series on the roots and rise of autism examined the initial studies and early accounts of the disorder, first identified by Kanner among 11 U.S. children born starting in 1931.

Kanner wrote that his 1938 encounter with a child from Mississippi, identified as Donald T., “made me aware of a behavior pattern not known to me or anyone else theretofore.” Kanner literally wrote the book on “Child Psychiatry,” published in 1934.

If Kanner was correct — if autism was new and increasingly prevalent — something must have happened in the 1930s to trigger those first autistic cases. Genetic disorders do not begin suddenly or increase dramatically in prevalence in a short period of time.

That is why it is worth looking for autistic Amish — to test reasoning against reality. Largely cut off for hundreds of years from American culture and scientific progress, the Amish might have had less exposure to some new factor triggering autism in the rest of population.

Surprising, but no one seems to have looked.

Of course, the Amish world is insular by nature; finding a small subset of Amish is a challenge by definition. Many Amish, particularly Old Order, ride horse-and-buggies, eschew electricity, do not attend public school, will not pose for pictures and do not chat casually with the “English,” as they warily call the non-Amish.

Still, some Amish today interact with the outside world in many ways. Some drive, use phones, see doctors and send out Christmas cards with family photos. They all still refer to themselves as “Plain,” but the definition of that word varies quite a bit.

So far, from sources inside and outside the Amish community, I have identified three Amish residents of Lancaster County who apparently have full-syndrome autism, all of them children.

A local woman told me there is one classroom with about 30 “special-needs” Amish children. In that classroom, there is one autistic Amish child.

Another autistic Amish child does not go to school.

The third is that woman’s pre-school-age daughter.

If there were more, she said, she would know it.

What I learned about those children is the subject of the next column.

PART 2: The Age of Autism: Julia

UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL

Leola, PA, Apr. 19 (UPI) — Part 2 of 2.

Three-year old Julia is napping when I arrive at the spare, neat, cheerful house on Musser School Road near the town of Leola in Lancaster County.

She is the reason I have driven through the budding countryside on this perfect spring day, but I really do not need to meet her.

In the last column, I wrote about trying to find autistic Amish people here in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, and noted there should be dozens of them — if autism occurs at the same prevalence as the rest of the United States.

So far, there is evidence of only three, all of them children, the oldest age 9 or 10. Julia is one of them. I found out about her through a pediatrician in Richmond, Va., Dr. Mary Megson. I had been asking around for quite some time about autism and the Amish, and she provided the first direct link.

Megson said she would give my name to this child’s mother, who could call if she chose. A few days later the phone rang. It was Stacey-jean Inion, an Amish-Mennonite woman. She, her husband Brent and their four children live simply, but they do drive a vehicle and have a telephone. After a few pleasantries, I told her about my trying to find autistic Amish.

Here is what she said, verbatim:

“Unfortunately our autistic daughter — who’s doing very well, she’s been diagnosed with very, very severe autism — is adopted from China, and so she would have had all her vaccines in China before we got her, and then she had most of her vaccines given to her in the United States before we got her.

“So we’re probably not the pure case you’re looking for.”

Maybe not, but it was stunning that Julia Inion, the first autistic Amish person I could find, turned out to be adopted — from another country, no less. It also was surprising that Stacey-jean launched unbidden into vaccines, because the Amish have a religious exemption from vaccination and presumably would not have given it much thought.

She said a minority of Amish families do, in fact, vaccinate their children these days, partly at the urging of public health officials.

“Almost every Amish family I know has had somebody from the health department knock on our door and try to convince us to get vaccines for our children,” she said. “The younger Amish more and more are getting vaccines. It’s a minority of children who vaccinate, but that is changing now.”

Did she know of any other autistic Amish? Two more children, she said.

“One of them, we’re very certain it was a vaccine reaction, even though the government would not agree with that.”

Federal health officials have said there is no association between vaccinations and autism or learning disabilities.

“The other one I’m not sure if this child was vaccinated or not,” she added.

During my visit to their home, I asked Stacey-jean to explain why she attributed the first case to vaccines.

“There’s one family that we know, their daughter had a vaccine reaction and is now autistic. She was walking and functioning and a happy bright child, and 24 hours after she had her vaccine, her legs went limp and she had a typical high-pitched scream. They called the doctor and the doctor said it was fine — a lot of high-pitched screaming goes along with it.

“She completely quit speaking,” Stacey-jean said. “She completely quit making eye contact with people. She went in her own world.”

This happened, Stacey-jean said, at “something like 15 months.” The child is now about 8.

For similar reasons, Julia Inion’s Chinese background is intriguing. China, India and Indonesia are among countries moving quickly to mass-vaccination programs. In some vaccines, they use a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal that keeps multiple-dose vials from becoming contaminated by repeated needle sticks.

Thimerosal was phased out of U.S. vaccines starting in 1999, after health officials became concerned about the amount of mercury infants and children were receiving. The officials said they simply were erring on the side of caution, and that all evidence favors rejection of any link between Autism Spectrum Disorders and thimerosal, or vaccines themselves.

Julia’s vaccinations in China — all given in one day at about age 15 months — may well have contained thimerosal; the United States had stopped using it by the time she was born, but other countries with millions to vaccinate had not.

Stacey-jean said photographs of Julia taken in China before she was vaccinated showed a smiling alert child looking squarely at the camera. Her original adoptive family in the United States, overwhelmed trying to cope with an autistic child, gave Julia up for re-adoption. The Inions took her in knowing her diagnosis of severe autism.

I tried hard — and am still trying — to find people who know about other autistic Amish. Of the local health and social service agency personnel in Lancaster, some said they dealt with Amish people with disabilities, such as mental retardation, but none recalled seeing an autistic Amish.

Still, I could be trapped in a feedback loop: The Amish I am likeliest to know about — because they have the most contact with the outside world — also are likeliest to adopt a special-needs child such as Julia from outside the community, and likeliest to have their children vaccinated.

Another qualifier: The Inions are converts to the Amish-Mennonite religion (Brent is an Asian-American). They simply might not know about any number of autistic Amish sheltered quietly with their families for decades.

It also is possible the isolated Amish gene pool might confer some kind of immunity to autism — which might be a useful topic for research.

Whatever the case, Stacey-jean thinks the autistic Amish are nowhere to be found.

“It is so much more rare among our people,” she said. “My husband just said last week that so far we’ve never met a family that lives a healthy lifestyle and does not vaccinate their children that has an autistic child. We haven’t come across one yet.”

“Everywhere I go (outside the Amish community) I find children who are autistic, just because I have an autistic daughter — in the grocery store, in the park, wherever I go. In the Amish community, I simply don’t find that.”

UPI researcher Kyle Pearson contributed to this article.

This ongoing series on the roots and rise of autism aims to be interactive with readers and welcomes comment, criticism and suggestions

Originally posted on UPI

Dan Olmsted: Mercury Rising

Bayer SeedGrowth

It is with great sadness that Autism Investigated relays the announcement that Dan Olmsted – Age of Autism’s founding editor – has passed away. While I have had my differences with him and the Age of Autism site, I will be forever grateful to him for his friendship, advice and platform for my views. I’ve always respected him as a journalist and have never forgotten the excellent work he has done over the years, and I just had a very friendly exchange with him on the day of the inauguration. I will never stop missing him and offer my sincere condolences to the entire Age of Autism team. Autism Investigated will devote the entire week to posts honoring Dan Olmsted, including a proper obituary. May we all honor Dan Olmsted’s life by ending the autism epidemic to make America great again! – Jake Crosby, MPH

Mercury Rising

A Possible Link Between Chemical Exposure And Autism May Have Been Overlooked In The Very Earliest Cases At Johns Hopkins

IN 1943, A CHILD KNOWN ONLY AS FREDERICK W. became part of the first medical report of a strange new disorder. Frederick was Case 2 of 11 children whose behavior “differed markedly and uniquely from anything reported so far,” wrote Dr. Leo Kanner, the psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University who introduced the syndrome to the world and named it “autism.”

One of the children “spun with great pleasure everything he could seize upon to spin.” Many of the children flapped their hands; flew into unpredictable bouts of rage and aggression; spoke in inexplicable ways if they spoke at all, sometimes referring to themselves as “you” and others as “I”; showed remarkable abilities like keen memory and perfect pitch but abject inability to perform simple tasks; obsessed over objects but ignored human beings.

Kanner didn’t know why the children, all born in the 1930s, acted that way but noticed the parents were college-educated and career-oriented: lawyers, psychiatrists, scientists. He wrote, “In the whole group, there are very few really warm-hearted fathers and mothers,” and later speculated, “emotionally refrigerated” parents might play a role in causing the baffling disorder.

“Most of the fathers are, in a sense, bigamists,” Kanner wrote. “They are wedded to their jobs at least as much as they are married to their wives. The job, in fact, has priority.”

Now, Frederick W.’s father has been identified by this reporter, who has written about autism for two years for United Press International, as a scientist named Frederick L. Wellman, and new information has been unearthed that suggests Wellman’s career might indeed be a clue–though not the kind Kanner detected.

The Frederick L. Wellman Papers fill 18 boxes in the Special Collections Research Center at the North Carolina State University Libraries in Raleigh. The first item in the first folder in the first box is dated Spring 1922, when the senior Wellman was working toward his doctorate in plant pathology at the University of Wisconsin. Faded with age, the report is titled “Hot Water and Mercuric Chloride Treatments of Some Brassica Seeds and Their Effect Both on the Germination of the Seeds and the Viability of the Fungus Phoma Lingam.”

In layman’s terms, Wellman collected cabbage seeds infected with a common fungus and dunked some of them in a solution of mercury salts and hot water. “The lots treated with mercuric [chloride] were shaken vigorously at first to get thorough contact with the solution,” he wrote. His faculty adviser at the time was concerned about an epidemic of cabbage fungus that was wrecking havoc on Wisconsin farms, and he enlisted his student Wellman’s help in researching solutions.

By the time his son was born 14 years later, in 1936, Wellman had graduated to advanced plant pathology work at the U.S. Agriculture Department’s main research center in Beltsville, in Prince George’s County, just outside Washington.

In a résumé, he wrote at length about his experience there with fungicides. On cabbage seeds, he reported, “organic mercury compounds were found to be most satisfactory disinfecting agents.” For tomatoes, “proprietary organic mercury dusts also gave good results.” All three of the fungicide sales brochures in his archive were for organic mercury compounds–two of them containing ethyl mercury, which was introduced in commercial products just a few years earlier.

Ethyl mercury is also the active ingredient in a vaccine preservative called thimerosal. A maverick minority of scientists and a larger percentage of parents blame thimerosal–which is 49.6 percent ethyl mercury by weight–for the rising autism rate, up tenfold in 20 years to one in 150 8-year-old U.S. children, according to a report this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some parents say they watched their children become physically ill and regress into autism soon after they got shots that contained the chemical–a link public-health officials call coincidence, not cause and effect.

It might be just another coincidence that the father of autism’s Case 2 was working with new ethyl mercury compounds seven decades ago when his son was born. Or it might not.

Coincidence or otherwise, similar echoes emerge from cases 1 and 3 in Kanner’s original study. Case 1 grew up in a town called Forest, Miss., surrounded by logging camps, lumber mills, and a national forest being planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Forest is 50 miles from the Mississippi sawmills where ethyl mercury fungicides were first tested in the United States in 1929 to preserve lumber, a practice that quickly became widespread; that child was born in 1933.

Case 3 was the son of “a professor of forestry in a southern university,” Kanner wrote. That university has been identified as North Carolina State–the same school where Frederick L. Wellman ended his career as a visiting professor. Case 3’s father began research on Southern pines when he joined the N.C. State faculty in 1935.

In 1936, he assisted in the planting of pine seedlings in the university’s newly acquired Hofmann Forest. His son was born in 1937. Organic mercury fungicides, including an ethyl mercury brand, were often used to prevent “damping off” or fungal contamination of pine seedlings during that era.

An advocate of the mercury-autism hypothesis says the pattern in those early cases strengthens his concern.

“So now we have learned that Frederick Wellman handled ethyl mercury fungicides that were first introduced to the market in 1929 and that his child was Kanner’s patient No. 2,” says Mark Blaxill, whose daughter Michaela has autism. Blaxill is vice president of the advocacy organization SafeMinds, which argues increased mercury exposure is behind the soaring autism rate. “And we know that cases 1 and 3 grew up around the first application of ethyl mercury products. If that’s not a smoking gun, I don’t know what is,” Blaxill continues.

Consistent with that possibility, overlooked studies from the 1970s found a history of chemical exposures in a “quite startling” percentage of parents of autistic children; researchers could not isolate any one chemical as a common factor. More recently, studies have reported a statistically significant correlation between mercury pollution and autism rates.

A spokesman for the CDC cautions against making too much of Wellman’s background.

“I’ve learned from being at CDC it’s often difficult when you’re trying to establish cause and effect,” Glen Nowak, chief of media relations, says when the Wellman case is described to him. “There are other things that could have mitigated the effect, could have enhanced the effect, caused the effect. So a case study of one, you always want to be very careful.”

In 1999, the CDC and other public-health authorities urged vaccine manufacturers to phase ethyl mercury out of U.S. pediatric vaccines as a precaution, given the well-known toxicity of mercury in developing brains and the increasing number of required childhood immunizations that contained it. Thimerosal remains in most flu shots, which are recommended by a CDC advisory committee for all pregnant women and for children as young as 6 months. Due in large measure to reassurance from United States and United Nations health authorities, ethyl mercury continues in wide use in pediatric vaccines in developing nations.

“Evidence is accumulating of lack of any harm resulting from exposure” to vaccines containing thimerosal as a preservative, according to a statement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services posted on its web site. The Department of Health points to a 2004 report by the prestigious Institute of Medicine, which discounted a link with autism and took the unusual step of recommending research funding go to more “promising” areas.

Mercury-based fungicides were banned in the United States and many other countries as understanding of mercury’s toxic effects became more sophisticated; they have not been on the market here since the 1970s. Such products were not a health threat when used properly, according to a leading manufacturer.

To be sure, there is no direct evidence of mercury exposure in any of the original cases, though Frederick W.’s mother had “kidney trouble” during her pregnancy–sometimes a sign of mercury toxicity. Frederick W.’s father worked with many dangerous substances besides mercury–a short list includes formaldehyde, arsenic, copper, sulfur, insecticides, and pesticides.

But it is also true that none of Kanner’s case studies from Johns Hopkins has been examined for such exposures, even as more researchers suspect genes alone cannot explain the rising number of diagnoses. The Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Epidemiology, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, lists “Environmental Exposures” first among six areas of research on its web site. Johns Hopkins Medicine declined to comment for this story.

Ellen K. Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health sciences at Hopkins, is currently using a $204,000 grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to test whether humans respond in different ways to mercury exposure. The goal, according to her report’s abstract, is to understand “preventable risk factors for autism based upon the hypothesis that mercury compounds by themselves do not cause autism but may contribute to the risks . . . in combination with genetic susceptibility and co-exposures to other risks, such as infections.” Silbergeld declined to comment for this story.

A recent issue of the Autism Advocate, published by the Autism Society of America, the nation’s oldest and largest such organization, focused on “the possible link between autism and the environment.” “We already have enough evidence to make the judgments that environmental factors are critical issues for autism,” wrote Dr. Martha Herbert, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. “This newer model of autism implies that we have great opportunities to do constructive things about this challenge.”

In April the Institute of Medicine convenes a two-day conference titled, “Autism and the Environment: Challenges and Opportunities for Research.”

Johns Hopkins’ Medical Privacy Board denied a request for information from the medical records of the original 11 cases reported by Leo Kanner, citing both privacy and practicality. The first three cases were identified independently.

 

THE HENRY A. WALLACE BELTSVILLE Agricultural Research Center is located just outside Washington’s traffic-clogged I-495 beltway. The Georgian-style main building is set back majestically from Route 1.

Off the highway, two-lane roads thread through 6,600 acres as the bustle of Washington yields to rolling countryside, big barns, and grazing cattle. The log visitors’ center with its massive stone fireplaces was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-1930s. Yet even some longtime Washingtonians are unaware that the world’s largest agricultural research center lies in their midst.

When Frederick L. Wellman began working there in 1935, Henry Wallace was secretary of agriculture under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the New Deal was launching initiatives to spur crop production and overcome the Dust Bowl days of the Depression. That year Congress passed a law mandating more basic agricultural research.

By then, Wellman had earned his Ph.D., wed a Wisconsin woman named Dora U’Ren, spent a year in Honduras with the United Fruit Co., and, in 1930, was hired at the U.S. Bureau of Plant Industry’s headquarters in Washington. He was preceded there by a colleague from Wisconsin, John Monteith, who was one of the most active experimenters in the world with mercury fungicides. Monteith wrote numerous papers about his tests on mercury fungicides at the bureau’s Arlington Turf Garden, now the site of the Pentagon. Monteith and Wellman had written a scientific paper on cabbage fungus in 1927.

During most of 1936, Wellman was hunting exotic plant diseases in Turkey, Egypt, and Iran. He was, as Leo Kanner wrote, a plant pathologist who “has traveled a great deal in connection with his work.”

Their child was born on May 23, 1936. Exactly six years later, in May 1942, the boy’s worried parents brought him to see Kanner at Johns Hopkins Hospital, about 30 miles up Route 1 from Beltsville. Kanner called him “Case 2: Frederick W.”

“The child has always been self-sufficient,” Kanner quoted his mother as saying. “Usually people are an interference. He’ll push people away from him. To a certain extent, he likes to stick to the same thing.

“On one of the bookshelves we had three pieces in a certain arrangement. Whenever this was changed, he always rearranged it in the old pattern.

“He had said at least two words (`Daddy’ and `Dora,’ the mother’s name) before he was 2 years old. From then on, between 2 and 3 years, he would say words that seemed to come as a surprise to himself. He’d say them once and never repeat them.”

Kanner was an international leader in diagnosing and treating childhood mental disorders–he wrote the book Child Psychiatry in 1935 and is widely credited with establishing the discipline in the United States. But he asserted in “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact”–published in 1943 in the now-defunct psychiatric journal The Nervous Child–that this was something completely different.

“These characteristics form a unique `syndrome’ not heretofore reported, which seems to be rare enough, yet is probably more frequent than is indicated by the paucity of observed cases,” Kanner wrote.

The children just did not appear retarded. “Even though most of these children at one time or another were looked upon as feeble-minded, they are all unquestionably endowed with good cognitive potential,” he wrote. “They all have strikingly intelligent physiognomies.”

What made them different, he concluded, was “an extreme autistic aloneness that, whenever possible, disregards, ignores, shuts out anything that comes to the child from the outside.” He called the disorder autism, from the Greek word “autos,” or self, borrowing the term from a Swiss psychiatrist who used it to describe childhood schizophrenia. The children appeared to inhabit a universe of one.

In September 1942, Frederick W. was placed in a school for the developmentally disabled near Baltimore. His father transferred to the agriculture department’s international division. In early 1943, Frederick L. and Dora Wellman left the U.S. mainland for the next two decades. But they would return for their only child.

 

ELEMENTAL OR METALLIC MERCURY, the slippery quicksilver that used to spill out of broken thermometers, is made up of single atoms, No. 80 on the Periodic Table of Elements. Mercury can combine with other elements to form compounds; these compounds are called organic mercury if they include a carbon atom, inorganic mercury if they do not.

All forms of mercury are toxic, but organic mercury–which can cross the body’s blood-brain barrier and the placenta–is especially dangerous.

One kind of organic mercury, methyl, “bioaccumulates” or builds up in some large fish. Pregnant women are advised not to eat too much of certain fish for fear of causing neurological damage to their offspring.

Ethyl is a sister compound from the same alkyl subgroup of organic mercury; it has one more carbon and two more hydrogen atoms than methyl. But ethyl mercury is man-made–it was not present in the environment, and humans were not exposed to it, until a Ukrainian immigrant named Morris S. Kharasch created the first commercial formulations just before Kanner’s earliest autism cases were born.

In the 1920s, in part based on expertise he developed in chemical warfare research for the United States during World War I, Kharasch filed 11 patents that paved the way for several ethyl mercury products by the end of that decade. His dual focus was evident in his Who’s Who entry: He had been “awarded patents along pharmaceutical lines, and treatment of fungus diseases of small grains.”

Those patents led directly to thimerosal–trademarked as Merthiolate by Eli Lilly and first used in vaccines by 1931. They also led to three ethyl mercury fungicides, the DuPont and Bayer brands Ceresan and New Improved Ceresan, marketed in a partnership called Bayer-Semesan; and Lignasan, used to treat timber.

Wellman’s North Carolina State archive, in a folder titled “Memorabilia,” contains sales brochures for both kinds of Ceresan. “New Improved Ceresan usually destroys seed-borne diseases either by direct contact with the spores or by forming a vapor which penetrates every crack and cranny of the seed,” the brochure reads. It also helped protect seeds “against certain soil-borne organisms.”

The pamphlets also warn the compounds are “poisonous and precautions with all packages must be observed. Use a dry filter dust mask or clean dry cloth over the nose and mouth, as New Improved Ceresan is poisonous to inhale.” (The third of three fungicide pamphlets in Wellman’s archive was for Semesan, another organic mercury compound from Bayer-Semesan.)

Used properly, mercury fungicides were never a health hazard, according to Germany-based Bayer CropScience.

“Investigating the health and environmental aspects of our products has always been an important activity for Bayer,” the division’s web site says. “Although the correct use of mercury-containing seed treatments would be safe to the environment even by today’s standards, these pioneer seed-treatments were replaced, at the end of the 1970s, by a new generation of mercury-free products.”

A DuPont spokeswoman, Gabriel King, says she cannot comment in detail because “going back that far, it’s the institutional memory–there’s just nothing there.”

DuPont and Bayer both referred this reporter to CropLife America, a trade group. A CropLife spokeswoman says it, too, lacks familiarity with mercury fungicides.

Wellman was aware that, with mercury fungicides, he was handling “a very strong poison.”

In 1940, while at Beltsville, he wrote he had become familiar with “toxic values of chemicals [and] injurious effects of disinfectants on human beings or animals that might be involved.” He wrote that mercury–including the inorganic kind he first tested on cabbage seeds as a Wisconsin student in 1922–can have devastating effects: “It must be remembered that the mercury chloride is a very strong poison, and special care must be taken in using it and disposing of the poison solution.”

Whether or not mercury affected Wellman’s child is speculation, of course. Yet there are possible clues. Frederick W., for example, was born three weeks early by cesarean section because his mother had “kidney trouble,” Kanner wrote.

According to the CDC’s toxicological profile for mercury, “The kidney is one of the major target organs of mercury-induced toxicity.” Elsewhere it states: “You can be exposed to mercury vapors from the use of fungicides that contain mercury. Excess use of these products may result in higher-than-average exposures. . . .

“Family members of workers who have been exposed to mercury may also be exposed to mercury if the worker’s clothes are contaminated with mercury particles or liquid,” it says.

Decades ago chemists were much less sophisticated about the dangers of some of the substances they worked with. “There were chemists, there were chemical assistants who would suck chemicals through pipettes in those days,” says Thomas Felicetti, executive director of Beechwood Rehabilitation Services in Langhorne, Pa. Felicetti published a study in 1981 that found children with autism were far more likely to have parents whose jobs brought them in contact with chemicals.

Felicetti’s study was a follow-up to one in 1974 by Dr. Mary Coleman, a leading autism expert at Georgetown University who has since retired. Her study of 78 autistic children found “an unusual amount of exposure [of parents] to chemicals in the preconception period.” Twenty of the 78 children were from families with chemical exposure; in four of those families, both parents had chemical exposures. Seven out of eight of those parents were chemists.

“Of the control parents” whose children did not have autism, she wrote, “there was only one family (again both the father and the mother) who were working as chemists in a laboratory.”

In a 1976 book she edited, The Autistic Syndromes, Coleman wrote that “since the incidence of individuals exposed to chemicals in all related occupations in the United States is 1,059,000 in 91,000,000 or 1.1 percent of the population . . . to find that 25 percent of any sample has had chemical exposure is quite startling.

“This is an area where more prospective research is needed,” Coleman wrote. That has never been done.

According to Coleman’s book, the idea of parental exposure leading to autism in a child “can not be dismissed, because of the theoretical possibility that chemical toxins could effect genetic material prior to conception.”

Dozens of studies have implicated mercury in genetic damage, including chromosomes breaks, point mutations, and partial and complete deletions. One study on hamsters (it is unethical to test toxic substances on humans) found mercury produced more point mutations than lead, a widely recognized threat to children’s mental development.

The scientific literature is also full of evidence that fetuses and young children can suffer long-term harm, including brain damage, from mercury exposure even if their parents do not.

The case that galvanized world attention occurred in Minamata, Japan, in 1956, when wastewater from a Chisso Corp. chemical plant spilled toxic levels of methyl mercury into Minamata Bay, and pregnant women ate contaminated fish. Children born to mothers who ingested methyl mercury from contaminated fish while pregnant had profound physical and neurological problems even though their mothers did not show any impairment.

In 1972 thousands of people in Iraq ate bread made from grain treated with methyl mercury fungicide that was intended for planting, not human consumption. Hundreds died. A follow-up study on children whose mothers ate contaminated bread after giving birth and who were exposed only through their mothers’ breast milk showed problems including language delay that led one parent to describe the children as “needles blunted by the poison.” Language delay is one of the hallmarks of autism as well.

Eating ethyl mercury-treated grain led to similar poisonings in Ghana in 1967. Twenty people died. Of those who survived, “toxic effects appeared earlier and were more severe in children than in adults,” according to a report of the incident published in 1974 in the journal Archives of Environmental Health. “Four children developed disturbances of speech which led to stammering and scanning. . . . Mental abnormality was observed in one boy who showed outbursts of anger unrelated to circumstances. A girl developed encephalitis [brain swelling] and became completely paralyzed . . . [with] complete loss of speech.”

The report added: “Of all the fungicides in modern use, the alkyl-mercury compounds [which include ethyl and methyl mercury] offer the most serious health hazards. This is the conclusion reached by many workers . . . who have undertaken many investigations of persons at risk of occupational absorption of alkyl mercury compounds. Serious concern has therefore been expressed about the necessary contamination of the environment with mercury, particularly from its use as fungicides in agriculture and in industry.”

Two recent U.S. studies have found a possible association between environmental mercury and a risk of autism in American children.

Raymond Palmer and colleagues at the University of Texas found the autism rate was higher in Texas counties with more mercury exposure from toxic industrial releases. In the other study, researchers found children living in areas with the highest level of mercury pollution in the San Francisco Bay area were roughly twice as likely to have autism.

The Environmental Protection Agency now says 6 percent of American children are born to mothers with a mercury level high enough to put them at risk for health problems.

 

IT IS SAFE TO SAY THAT LEO KANNER was not looking for environmental exposures as a cause of the strange new cases he was seeing.

By the time the Wellmans arrived at Johns Hopkins in 1942 with Frederick W., Kanner had observed a number of such children who would form the basis for his landmark description of autism as a “markedly and uniquely different” disorder.

He believed they had something else in common.

“In the whole group,” he wrote in his original study, “there are very few really warmhearted fathers and mothers.” In subsequent studies he became more emphatic, describing “the almost total absence of emotional warmth in child rearing.”

“As a rule, the parents of our autistic children are cold, humorless perfectionists,” he wrote in 1954. “[T]he emotional refrigeration which the children experience from such parents cannot but be a highly pathogenic element in the patients’ early personality development, superimposed powerfully on whatever predisposition has come from inheritance.”

Kanner’s speculation about the parents’ role was tempered by his beliefs that most of the children he saw had been that way since birth, and that their autism was “inborn.” By the end of his long and distinguished career at Hopkins, he had completely dropped the idea of parental responsibility, and noted: “At no time have I pointed to the parents as the primary, postnatal sources of pathogenicity.” Kanner was also harshly critical of the claims of Bruno Bettelheim, who blamed autism on the homicidal feelings of mothers for their child. Another autism pioneer, Bernard Rimland (who died in 2006), demolished the psychological-damage idea for good in his 1964 book Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior.

Kanner made another key observation in that original 1943 study.

“There is one other very interesting common denominator in the backgrounds of these children,” he wrote. “They all come of highly intelligent families.”

The Wellmans certainly fit that mold–Frederick L. Wellman had a Ph.D. in plant pathology, his wife was a college graduate, and he had four talented siblings: an opera singer; a newspaperman and best-seller author; a writer for adventure magazines; and a painter, writer, and radio commentator. Yet only the Wellman sibling with a clear chemical connection, Frederick L. Wellman, had a child with autism.

In Thomas Felicetti’s 1981 study, there was no “intellect effect,” he said; chemical exposure was the difference. One parent applied roof tar, which contained a number of toxic chemicals.

Rimland, the researcher who disproved the idea that “refrigerator” parents made their children autistic, pointed out in a 2002 written statement in his role as head of the Autism Research Institute that Kanner earned his M.D. in 1919 in Berlin, came to Hopkins in 1928, “and has been reported to have seen well over 20,000 children in the course of his psychiatric career. . . . It is remarkable, in retrospect, that none of the children were seen in Kanner’s first 12 years of practice [at Hopkins], and all 11 were born after 1930, when, as it happens, mercury-containing vaccines were first used in this country. A coincidence? Very unlikely.”

Others, including the author of a new book, argue autism has been around for ages and only awareness of it has increased. In this view, increasing exposure to mercury–or any other environmental agent–could not be causing an autism epidemic for one simple reason: There is no autism epidemic.

“The most important piece of evidence provided by those who believe that thimerosal is related to autism is that rates for all the various autism spectrum disorders have risen dramatically over the past few decades,” writes Roy Richard Grinker, a George Washington University anthropologist, in Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism.

Grinker, who has a teenage daughter, Isabel, with autism, argues in his book that the “evidence” just doesn’t hold up. “[T]he increase in the rate of autism is more likely due to the result of new and improved science–more reliable definitions of autism and more awareness of autism among health-care professionals and educators. Maybe we are finally diagnosing and counting autism correctly.”

Another expert who argues autism is not new is Dr. Darold Treffert, a Wisconsin psychiatrist who has worked with autistic patients for decades.

“Autistic disorder did not begin with Kanner’s description of it in 1943 any more than Down’s syndrome began with [Dr. Landon Down’s] description of it in 1887,” Treffert says in an e-mail. In fact, he says, Down identified several children who today would be described as autistic.

But the incidence could have increased due to new factors, Treffert continues. His belief that autism has long existed “does not negate any present investigations of the etiology [cause] of autistic disorder, including the role of environmental or heavy metal factors.”

Despite those assertions, there is a distinct lack of observed cases before 1930–less than a handful in the United States, each of which might have had autistic symptoms but differ in many ways from Kanner’s original 11.

A chemical connection might also help explain why Kanner, in Baltimore, first described the disorder: He happened to be located near government researchers working with cutting-edge chemicals. Frederick L. Wellman did advanced work for the federal government in suburban Maryland, literally on the road to Baltimore, while the father of Case 8 was “a chemist and law school graduate at the government Patent Office,” another Washington agency. Other cases appear to have been local, based on the way they were first noticed or on their parents’ occupations–one mother, a pediatrician, became a Maryland public-health officer. Case 4 was the son of a mining engineer, which also suggests the possibility of some environmental link. (It is unclear why Kanner, who died in 1981, arranged the first 11 cases in the order he did, which is not chronological.)

Ricci King, a Washington state autism advocate, says she has long noticed a connection between farm backgrounds and autism, especially in children who never had been vaccinated. That fits with a link to fungicides, she says.

“For some reason in the back of my brain I was filing the fact that some of these parents were farmers, or lived near farm communities,” says King, who has a 14-year-old son, Robert Hedequist, with autism and moderates an international autism biomedical discussion group for parents and professionals, ABMD@yahoogroups.com.

“A light bulb went off for me at a conference in Portland [Ore.] in 2001 where I met a mother of five children, all on the spectrum, all unvaccinated,” King recalls in an interview. “She was from eastern Washington, she came from a family of farmers, and her husband was a farmer as well. All five of her children had regressive autism. Meeting her changed the way I look at autism, and prompted me to explore the connection.”

King says her “jaw literally dropped” when presented with the idea that mercury in fungicides could link Kanner’s early cases. “It would be hard to convince me that there isn’t a connection,” she says.

Again, that’s speculation. But Mercury, like many toxins, can linger in the environment and could theoretically be a risk for decades via earth, air, and water. At the Beltsville center where Frederick L. Wellman experimented with mercury fungicides in the 1930s–and where research on their agricultural uses presumably ended decades ago–mercury concentrations remained up to 2,000 times the U.S. average, according to a 1995 Coastal Hazardous Waste Site Review by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

 

AFTER LEAVING BELTSVILLE IN 1943, Wellman became head of the Department of Plant Pathology and Botany at the U.S. Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, making frequent forays around the world. The bespectacled scientist published several books as well as dozens of scientific papers. He founded the Caribbean Division of the American Phytopathological Society.

His career was his calling. The first chapter in his 1974 book Plant Diseases–An Introduction for the Layman begins with a stark depiction of what can happen without the contributions of plant pathologists.

“There are many plant diseases that have destroyed important food crops causing poverty, misery, hunger, and, finally, the ugliest thing in all human experience: famine,” he wrote. “I have seen and smelled villages in the last stages of famine. . . . To me, privileged, fed, and protected, the sight seemed an impossibility.”

Wellman became the world’s leading authority on a fungus called Hemileia vastatrix, the cause of coffee rust disease. Again, mercury was part of the picture. He wrote:

    Coffee seed is covered with a tough parchment-like shell and this may be washed and disinfected with strong chemicals. Solutions of formaldehyde, strong chlorides, salts of mercury and salts of copper can all be used and after half an hour of soaking, the treated seed rinsed in water.

While Wellman made a name for himself in plant pathology, Leo Kanner did the same in the field he named. Johns Hopkins became a “clearinghouse” for autism cases from as far away as South Africa. By 1958, he had files on 150 autistic children.

In 1971 Kanner wrote a follow-up paper on the first 11 children. “Twenty-eight years have elapsed since then. . . . The patients were between 2 and 8 years old when first seen at the Children’s Psychiatric Clinic of the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

“What has become of them?” he asked. “What is their present status?”

Frederick W. was one of just two children whose outcome he considered favorable, Kanner said (Case 1 from Forest, Miss., was the other). In 1962 officials at the Maryland institution where Frederick W. lived wrote:

    He is, at 26 years, a passive, likeable boy whose chief interest is music. He is able to follow the routine and, though he lives chiefly within his own world, he enjoys those group activities which are of particular interest to him. He was a member of the chorus in the Parents’ Day program and was in charge of the loud speaker at the annual carnival. He went on weekend trips to town unaccompanied and made necessary purchases independently.

Two years later the Wellmans took their son out of that institution and brought him to live with them in Puerto Rico. Their son “picked up a lot of Spanish and worked out a schedule of studying language lessons on records at 4 o’clock every afternoon,” they told Kanner.

Frederick L. Wellman soon retired from his Puerto Rican post, and the family moved to Raleigh, where he became a visiting professor at North Carolina State.

“We settled into a new home and [Frederick] did his part in it,” the Wellmans wrote Kanner. “He has become acquainted with the neighbors and sometimes makes calls on them. We tried him out in the County Sheltered Workshop and Vocational Training Center. He took right to it, made friends with the teachers, and helped with some of the trainees. Through his relationship there, he took up bowling and he does pretty well.”

Frederick L. Wellman retired from N.C. State in 1970. He, his wife, and their son lived in an apartment building until the elder Wellmans died in the 1990s; Frederick W. turned 70 last May.

A man who twice answered the intercom at his current residence said it was a wrong number. A letter sent to his address received no response.

So the last word must come from Kanner’s follow-up more than a quarter-century ago.

In 1969, Frederick W. began working at the National Air Pollution Administration, now part of the Environmental Protection Agency, doing routine tasks like running a copy machine. His boss wrote in 1970 that he “is an outstanding employee by any standard.”

Mark Blaxill of SafeMinds says the new information about Frederick W. and the other early cases is a call to action.

“It’s important not to make overly large claims from this evidence, but we need to take seriously the early environmental clues like this,” he says.” Johns Hopkins has detailed data on the first couple of hundred Kanner patients. Perhaps there are more clues in that sample, like an undiscovered environmental cluster, that no one has considered before.

“I would hope that Hopkins might consider opening up those case files and, instead of focusing on the parents, start thinking about where these families lived and what the parents’ occupational exposures might have been.”

Dan Olmsted is a journalist with United Press International in Washington, where he writes the Age of Autism column, available at www.upi.com. Copyright 2007 © United Press International Inc. All rights reserved. Researcher Beverly Crawford contributed to this story.

Originally posted at Baltimore City Paper