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