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UPDATE: Statement: Rep. Dave Weldon, MD

December 13, 2004

Overloaded?: UPDATE: Statement: Rep. Dave Weldon, MD

Statement of U.S. Congressman Dave Weldon, MD

December 9, 2004

As a practicing physician and a Member of Congress, I have been increasingly alarmed by mounting evidence over the past several years suggesting a relationship between mercury exposure in newborns and the rising epidemic of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs), including Autism. Mercury is a known neurotoxin. It does not take a great leap of faith to believe that even low exposures to mercury at a critical stage of neurodevelopment could cause neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs).

A study released today conducted by Dr. Jill James demonstrates that children with regressive autism have a defect in the pathways used by the body to detoxify and excrete heavy metals such as mercury. Not only does her research help to explain why these children may be uniquely vulnerable to mercury-related injuries, but her research also provides avenues for the potential treatment of mercury-associated NDDs. This work by Dr. James is highlighted in a report issued today by the Environmental Working Group.

The work of Dr. James and others have continued with private support. Unfortunately, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has not yet dedicated funding to better understand and develop interventions for the epidemic of children suffering from NDDs, particularly those that may have resulted from mercury exposures from childhood vaccines.

When the Institute of Medicine at the National Academies (IOM) issued their May 2004 report denying any causal association between autism and mercury exposure from childhood vaccines, I responded by stating that their report was "premature, perhaps perilously reliant on epidemiology, based on preliminary incomplete information, and may ultimately be repudiated." Today's study, along with several other recently published scientific studies, demonstrate clearly that the IOM overstated their conclusions. Dr. James' work begins to identify a subgroup of children that may be highly vulnerable to certain levels of mercury previously thought safe for all children. None of the five epidemiology studies on which the IOM based their report would have detected this subgroup; they simply were not designed in such a manner to identify a genetically susceptible population.

Despite the IOM's recommendation to the contrary, I will do all I can to ensure that the public health community, including NIH and CDC, aggressively pursues research into ways we can identify and treat children that may be genetically vulnerable to mercury-induced neurological damage. It is my hope that Dr. James' research, along with the research of other scientists, will prevent future injuries. I will work in the 109th Congress to develop public health policies that help expedite this.

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