Keep Our Families SafeMore Mercury Dangers
The harmful effects of exposure to mercury loom as large as ever.
There have been two recent incidents that are of particular concern.
First, it came to light that the regulations covering the toxic effects of mercury have potentially been weakened.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was recently tasked with re-writing the regulations for coal-burning plants, which emit mercury. The draft regulations were based on a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences designed to settle the debate over the risks of mercury. EPA staffers have said that the White House made changes in the rules to play down the health risks associated with the mercury released from these coal plants.
Among the changes the White House insisted on were ones that minimized the links between power plant emissions and the levels of mercury in fish. Eating contaminated fish is the predominant way in which people are exposed to mercury.
The current restrictions on emissions, now being threatened by the White House, are the result of more than 14 years of lawsuits, scientific review and government reports.
Second, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended that infants and toddlers receive flu shots this fall, but the agency failed to take action to prevent these young children from being exposed to mercury contained in the vaccines.
Mercury is found in thimerosal, the most commonly used vaccine preservative. Preservatives are used to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi. In 1999, the U.S. Public Health Service and pediatricians called on drug firms to voluntarily produce thimerosal-free vaccines as a safety precaution.
But participation by drug firms, while encouraging, has not been universal.
Compelling drug firms to produce thimerosol-free vaccines would not result in higher costs for consumers or disrupt supply.
What makes both these situations all the more peculiar is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued warnings cautioning young children and pregnant women from eating large quantities of certain fish known to be high in mercury content.
Both the White House and the CDC’s cavalier attitude toward mercury are surprising. As nearly every pregnant woman or new mother knows, too much mercury may cause autism and other developmental disorders. And there is also a growing body of evidence linking mercury emissions to a rise in heart attacks and coronary disease in adult men.
But in the meantime, the best that we can all do is to monitor both of these stories as they develop. And when flu season rolls around again, at least some of us can rest easy that thimerosol-free vaccines are available from your physician on request.