Canada – No Mercury but plenty of autism

David Kirby is touring Canada to promote his book, Evidence of Harm, that argues for a connection between the mercury based preservative thimerosal (until recently this was used in the manufacture of many early childhood vaccines) and an apparent increase in autism prevalence.

Canada, too has experienced an apparent increase as well. According to the Autism Society of Canada:

Epidemiological studies are still in the early stages in Canada and more surveillance and research are needed to develop accurate data on the prevalence of ASDs. The current prevalence of ASDs nationwide is estimated to be more than 1 in 200. (Fombonne, E., 2003: Modern Views of Autism, Can. J. Psychiatry, 48:503-505. Fombonne, E., 2003: Epidemiology of autism and other pervasive developmental disorders: an update. J. Autism. Dev. Disord. 33:365-381).

The ad for Kirby’s tour makes a number of claims.

“In some parts of Canada, children received mercury in their vaccines until at least 2002, and perhaps beyond; the residual effects of which we are seeing in the number of rising and confirmed cases of autism.”

If you look at the population map below the dark colours show where most Canadians live. Kirby’s tour takes him to some of the most heavily populated provinces: Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba with lots of autistic children. The only problem is that very few parts of Canada ever used thimerosal containing vaccines and then only in the Hep B vaccine.

Density Map 2001

New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Yukon and Northwest Territories were the only jurisdictions in Canada with a universal infant hepatitis B immunization program in 1999. The total population of these areas is less than 1 million compared with a total population of over 30 million for Canada as a whole. Since 2002 they have been joined by Britiash Columbia (pop 4,154,053) and Nunavut (pop 30,776) All population figures are taken from here.

Exposure to thimerosal is still very small. The Public Health Agency of Canada states that Canadian infants from the above six Canadian jurisdictions could have been exposed to between 12.5 µg and 37.5 µg of ethylmercury in the first 6 months of life (or an average of 0.069 µg/day to 0.206 µg/day), from thimerosal-containing hepatitis B vaccine. And for 75% of Canada’s children there is no exposure at all. Yet there are still autism societies up and running covering nearly the whole of Canada.

I hope the people who attend Kirby’s seminars ask him to explain why they have comparable levels of autism with the USA and NO HISTORY OF MERCURY IN THEIR VACCINES

Kirby’s second claim is that

“A recent university study showed that children exposed to high levels of environmental mercury were at increased risk of developing autism”

I guess that some of the highest exposures to mercury come from eating fish. And the Inuit who make up the majority of the population in Nunavut have historically consumed more fish than anyone else in Canada. Their cumulative burden of environmental mercury ought to be similarly higher. Yet Nunavut is the one part of Canada that does not have an autism society.

That is because THERE ARE NO AUTISTIC INUIT. Eric Fombonne is a world renowned authority on autism and, from his base in Montreal he has had a lot to do with the Inuit. For 15 years he and his team have been providing healthcare to 11000 Inuit and have found no cases of autism at all. Please go to Kev’s blog and read their abstract along with others finding no difference between mercury levels in the hair and the blood of autistic and non-autistic children.

That ought to be the end of the thimerosal/autism charade. But somehow I doubt it.

20 thoughts on “Canada – No Mercury but plenty of autism

  1. You continue to site Fombonne as an “expert” what evidence have you for this other than his ability to con his way through an academic social system with the same facility as a journalist might work his way through a corresponding social system.

    You are as much a victim of the social constructs of autism as anyone, for you have not thought outside of the proverbial box and considered whethere there is really a lack of autism amongst the Inuit, or whether it is simply a cultural thing that autism has not been recognised, for instance there are many conditions that we do not have that are recognised in other cultures.

    It is the global construction of autism that is weak and by citing archpriests like Fombonne you are just regularising the position.

    I simply refuse to believe there are no Autistic Inuit anymore than I belive there were no autists before the time of Kanner, it is like declaring the sun won’t come up tommorrow, you just don’ know.

  2. Lorenzo,
    I cannot agree with you that everything is a social construct. There is substance to Fombonne’s work that is lacking in the Geiers, Wakefield, Bradstreet et al. If we are comparing apples and oranges, Fombonne’s work as a doctor and a researcher is more substantial than Kirby’s work as a journalist. Fombonne does good science. Kirby does bad journalism.

    Regarding the Inuit, Fombonne has found autism in studies in the UK and in Canada and in France. He has failed to find it among the Inuit. That is significant.

    Nor am I an acolyte citing the Archpriest Fombonne. Fombonne has changed his mind about autism prevalence oiver the years because he is open to the evidence. This is not about loyalty to a preconceived construct. It is about discovery. And if the discovery that there is no autism among the Inuit can be replicated in other Inuit communities it will force a sea change in everybody’s thinking about autism, yours as well as mine.

    Trees will fall in the brainforest.

  3. Kirby is actually a very good journalist, truth has nothing to do with good journalism, the guy succeeds very well doing what journalists do best.

    Fombonne is simply not qualified to take a cross cultural or even accurate perspective of autism either he is inculcated with a particular picture so much so that what does not look like the picture because maybe his television set doesn’t have green and the picture does, he simply does not see.

    I find it very hard to believe that there is no autism amongst the Inuit, indeed didn’t someone once tell you there was no autism in Cumbria ?

  4. And whilst I am on the subject of the Inuit, was it not an inuit who said of Franklin’s ill fated journey to find the North West Passage

    “How could they possibly starve in a land of plenty”

    Different world views, different breadths of vision, the reason for Fombonnes failure says no more than that if you go for looking for ants with a telescope you are not going to find them.

  5. I’m curious Lorenzo – where does Fombonne state he has found no autism amongst the Inuit?

    “I simply refuse to believe there are no Autistic Inuit”

    Always nice to see indications of an evidence based approach. Good luck with that.

  6. Damn I screwed that up. Edited version below:

    I’m curious Lorenzo – where does Fombonne state he has found no autism amongst the Inuit?

    “I simply refuse to believe there are no Autistic Inuit”

    Always nice to see indications of an evidence based approach. Good luck with that.


    I am quoting Mike Stanton here, not Fombonne, who Mike asserts has found no Autistic Inuit in his experience of the Inuit.

    Now the scientific method does not say, there are no autistic inuit in my sample (however large) therefore there can be no autistic inuit, it sets out not to confirm the hypothesis but to try and disprove it.

    However the question to be asked in the abscence of what Dr Fombonne defines as autism within his narrow and rigid cultural field, is not whehter it is absent but why he may not be seeing it and only then to come to a conclusion after looking from a different direction, or several.

    Amaral in the mind institute is bound to come up with confirmation of the Mercury Hypothesis isn’t he, are you going to believe him, when you know his sample is biased ?

    Just because someone is an accredited scientist that does not mean they are going to produce valid results alround when there are heavy factors predisoposing them not to.

    Autism is in its diagnosis a matter of socially determined and observable symptoms (even Volkmaar can be persuaded to agree that it’s definition has been decided by committee, with much politicing) and its reporting is going to be affected by socially determined factors, a social “scientist” would tell you that.

    Autism would not be the only condition for which there is disproportionate and unbalanced reporting accross different ethnicities and the anthropological and cultural elements of medicine are overlooked in the supposed “perfection” of the western paradigm. Did you look at the Derrida link I posted, there is an example of looking at western philosophical notions through a different cultural perspective.

  8. Hi Kev,
    I thought you quoted Fombonne on your blog as saying
    Autism has been found in most populations where it has been investigated. We have preliminary evidence that autism does not exist in the Inuit population of Northern Quebec

    My own entry does need correcting. Fombonne has found no autism in the 11,000 Inuit who inhabit Northern Quebec. That still leaves 30,000 Canadian Inuit, most of whom live in the province of Nunavut whom Fombonne has not seen. Then there are the Inuit of Alaska, Greenland etc.

    So, regarding my statement that there are no autistic Inuiit it would be more accurate to state that preliminary evidence supports the hypothesis that autism does not exist among the Inuit, but more research is needed. And I see from a more careful reading of Fombonne’s abstract that he wants to carry out a full epidemiological survey to test the hypothesis.

    This is all very interesting. But it is a sidebar to my main point that the majority of autistic people in Canada have never had a thimerosal containing vaccine and autism rates in Canada are comparable to those in the USA.

  9. Still raises the point as to what Fombonnes construct of autism consists of, and how it takes account of cultural difference and other factors that might be predisposing the Inuit not to acknowlege the same phenomena as Fombonne does, because we are really in no different situation here than we were when the only Autism that was acknowleged was so called classic “infantile autism” based Kanner notwithstanding, pretty much around Bleuler and Kraepelins constructs of Schizophrenia.

    Anyway experts or not autism continues to go unrecognised and undiagnosed, and given the example that SBC will not diagnose in the absence of parental confirmation (itself unreliable retrospectively for reasons any competent pyscologist ought to be aware of) it does not mean that there is no autism in those he will not diagnose, merely that he is following a particular stricture that dissalows him from confirming it.

    Like it or not, autism is more than a simple medical/pyscological phenomenon it is a cultural one, indeed as all “illness” and “disease” is.

    different cultures have different maladies, and that is wide spread in the practices of GP’s accross Europe and manifest in there prescribing habits.

    Why should St Fombonne be so immune to error?

  10. They found no diagnoses of autism or related conditions among 11,000 Inuit based on a computer search and personal experience. It’s too early to say anything either way. That population is way too small. Consider the number of children in that population and the prevalence of autism with speech delay.

  11. Why oh why rely on a study done by Fombonne, surely it would be better to wait for one carried out by someone else that would be more scientific would it not, indeed better still to have multiple studies to compare.

    But if one were to reserch autism amongst the Hopi, or the remnants of the original inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, what might one find?

  12. Ok, Only mentioned to let you know because the link showed the bottom of the page and at first it seemed something of the references was mentioned as important. After a while, you realise.
    I think that there is an alternative view about why Autism show similar trends in USA, UK and Canada. Are you interested on my view?
    I think that thimerosal can not be seen as THE culprit and genetics is very important. Please let me know… and thank you in advance
    MAría Luján

  13. Maria,
    I do not see thimerosal as a culprit at all. IF there was an epidemic then I would expect to find a common cause. But I see no evidence for an epidemic so why look for a cause for something that does not exist?

  14. Hi Mike
    Thank you for your comment. I will answer you about what I think and I am glad to hear your ideas about.
    1- With the changes in diagnosis criteria, health policies and many many other reasons that Joseph, Jonathan and many others commenting Educational data and other sources for numbers of autistic people How can we know if an epidemics is present or no BY COMPARISON with 30 or 40 years ago, where socially, parentally and medically all was different? For me what we know today is
    a-beyond the need of labeling of children, there are more evident neurodevelopmental problems in children since speech delay to ADD, HD, ADHD to full autism -under DSMIV
    b-beyond the cultural problems (TV, PC, Video games, work, life style) there are more and more children with behavioral problems that can be considered in the autism spectrum NOW, considering the last 10 years or since 1995.
    c-there is a generalized perception that learning problems in apparently NT children, reading and writing quality is each year worse in general in terms of number of children affected.
    2-I wonder why?
    Focusing on what today is diagnosed under DSMIV as ASD ,
    a-what we know today is that Genetics is very important in autism and it is related to different brain structure in for example Purkinje cells. But also every day new data are presented, considering that from 5 up to 20 genes can be important in autism.
    b-If certain genetics differences are related to autism, what are the consequences of , beyond the different brain structure ? What about the immune system, the detox system, the changes with development, the -hypophysis-thyroid-adrenal system SINCE BIRTH? What is the role of epigenetics in ASD ?
    c- My question What is the impact of our genetically different child, born different in brain structure and other not studied today but apparently NT, of vaccines (toxoids, viruses and thimerosal and other preservants and compounds (Al for example), antibiotics, childhood infections, oportunistic exposures to herpes viruses and streptococus?
    d-What is the impact of the combination of insults for a child? All children are receiving up to 18 months of life a crowded schedule of vaccines, suffer several infections that are undiscriminately treated with antibiotics (sometimes strong) and are exposed to a series of potential childhood infections because herpes and streptococus are widespread?
    e-What is the impact in our susceptible children of the environmental insult from the air that breathe, the food that eat- since the maternal milk, the water that drink? What about the contact with chemicals such as PCBs, PAHS, dioxins, flame retardants, Pb/Cd/As etc?
    Where are the studies of the impact of this in ASD children, as a whole?
    MAría Luján

  15. Fombonne Inuit Study

    I have bits and pieces of this paper , but no hard copy .

    I have a few question:
    if the inuit in Northern quebec don’t have any autistic childreen
    why do the inuit of the Northwest territory do have a good
    number of autistic childreen ???????

    Secondly looking at a paper dated 1997 , it mention that quebec childreen
    at the period had a coverage of 82% and that the inuit childreen
    of northern quebec had a coverage of 50 % less.

    The second question at what age the childreen got vaccinated ,
    the little info I found talk about vaccination would tend to occur between 12 to 24 months .

    I am somewhat curious if Fombonne answers to this issue ???

    Montreal Que

  16. As background I am a non-scientist and parent of a three-year-old recently diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

    I would humbly suggest to Maria consideration of Richard Lathe’s book Autism, Brain and Environment. I would also welcome opinions on this book from any of the bloggers/posters here (preferably from those who have actually read it!) – Wikipedia description pasted at the end.

    The Net seems like a bit of a battleground between autistic groups who want to be recognised as autistic and unique in themselves – not as holders of a disability requiring a cure; a variety of groups like DAN aggressively pushing for treatments which range from peer-reviewed to the anecdotal; sceptical scientists who criticise flaws in research and sensationalist press articles.

    The key points from Lathe’s book I would like feedback on are:

    – differing causes but the same or similar symptoms – sub-types of autism/ ASD

    If it is right that there are different sub-types of ASD, does that not invalidate a lot of the research being done on “ASD children” (even with controls and double-blind)?

    Do you agree that there are different possible causes of ASD (biomedical, genetic, environmental, metabolic, allergic)?

    If so – along with the problem of no clearly defined sub-typing – doesn’t that make it impossible to include or exclude vaccines as a contributory factor in at least some children?

    – theory of new wave of autism

    Lathe does a statistical analysis of the papers on the rise in ASD/autism and reviews relevant changes in the diagnostic criteria. He concludes that there has been a true rise in incidence of people presenting with ASD. he suggests a new genetic vulnerability coupled with increased environmental toxicity of different kinds.

    What are your views on this? Does anyone know whether Lathe has any axes to grind? I know his scientific credentials check out – but even peer-reviewed literature can go wrong (blogs passim on global warming and ecstasy research with political overtones).

    I am not supporting or denying these points and my understanding of what he says is my own take on things (and may be wrong if you read Lathe’s book with more scientific credentials than I).


    Peter Dylewski

    Pasted from Wikipedia:

    In Autism, Brain, and Environment (2006, ISBN 1-84310-438-5), Lathe proposes that autism is largely a disorder of the limbic brain, balancing evidence that environmental factors may trigger autism with a recognition of genetic vulnerability. In his book, he analyzes biomedical evidence pertaining to the genetics, endocrinology, immunology, toxicology, virology, and neuroscience essential for understanding the causes of autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs). Lathe contends that the autism epidemic and rise in ASDs has resulted from increased exposures to environmental toxics, combined with predisposition to genetic vulnerability. While nothing in his book contradicts research implicating genetic vulnerability as an underlying cause of ASDs, Lathe instead uses evidence showing autism is more prevalent in urban than rural areas to bolster his contention that pollution is a likely culprit as well. Lathe argues that most children on the autistic spectrum have additional physiological problems, and that these, rather than being separate from the psychiatric aspects of ASDs, can produce and worsen the condition. “I aim to show how genetics and environmental factors might come together,” he says. Lathe’s book also describes a cycle of disease that begins with exposure to certain brain damaging toxins, in particular affecting the limbic system, which in turn can lead to autistic symptoms and collateral physical ailments, such as autistic enterocolitis, leading to further brain damage. With sixty percent of families with a child on the autistic spectrum using casein and/or gluten-free diets, Lathe believes that parents are correct in thinking that biomedical intervention can help their children, and that some of these interventions may effectively address environmental causes of ASDs.

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