June 21, 2007

The Newly Found Northvale Autism Cluster

"Dr. Lawrence Rosen, a pediatrician from nearby Old Tappan, NJ, treats over 300 kids with ASD, including at least 20 who attend St. Anthony's, or are children of teachers there. "The direct information I have from one parent and one teacher," he told me, "is that, out of 12 children born to women who taught in Room 5 at the school, nine have autism or severe learning disabilities, and all of them are boys. The three non-affected children are girls."

The CDC better get their asses to Northvale stat. We may have found autism's "Love Canal".

UPDATE: Kirby visited the school and it is surrounded by 19 industrial sites that are regulated by the EPA. See note at the end.

Autism in Room 5
By David Kirby

Some witnesses for the US Justice Department will testify in Vaccine Court this week that there's no such thing as an autism epidemic. They will say that autism is genetic in origin, and that its rate is generally static: about 1-in-150 children. A genetic disorder, of course, has no external "cause," and nothing in the environment - least of all mercury in vaccines - could be driving autism numbers upward.

Better diagnosis and wider reporting, they say, are really to blame.

But there is a pivotal flaw to this argument: As a genetic disorder that seems to affect all races equally, autism rates should be roughly 1-in-150 in every age group, in every country, in every state, virtually in every town. But they are not.

Just ask the Special Ed teachers at St. Anthony's school in Northvale, NJ: not about their students, but about their own kids.

New Jersey may very well be the developmental disorder capital of North America. The CDC tells us that children here are three times more likely to have an autism diagnosis than kids in, say, Alabama.

That means that, if autism spectrum disorders are genetic only, then New Jersey officials must be three times better at diagnosing and counting ASD cases than their Alabama counterparts.

Conversely, if some autism cases really do have an environmental component - heavy metals, for instance - then geography itself might become a risk factor.

Which brings us to Northvale, a hardworking, middle class community near the New York border, and home to St. Anthony's, a church-owned property that also serves as a public school for special education students, many with autism.

On Tuesday, the Bergen Record reported a "high prevalence of autism and learning disabilities among children of teachers" employed at St. Anthony's.

According to an admittedly "informal poll" of school administrators, 14 out of 39 children born to female instructors since 1997 were diagnosed with a learning disability: three with autism, and 11 with speech and language delays.

Yes, this is an unscientific survey of a limited population. But it is alarming nonetheless -- and the impetus for several media reports generated among the jaded, heard-it-all metro New York press.

Keep in mind that 1-in-six American children has a learning disability; but among children of teachers at St. Anthony's, the rate is reportedly 1-in-3. As for autism, the NJ rate is 1-in-94; while at St. Anthony's, it's just 1-in-13.

My own initial reporting on this subject has turned up slightly different, but even more disturbing evidence of a possible developmental disability "cluster" in Northvale.

Dr. Lawrence Rosen, a pediatrician from nearby Old Tappan, NJ, treats over 300 kids with ASD, including at least 20 who attend St. Anthony's, or are children of teachers there. "The direct information I have from one parent and one teacher," he told me, "is that, out of 12 children born to women who taught in Room 5 at the school, nine have autism or severe learning disabilities, and all of them are boys. The three non-affected children are girls."

In other words, nine out of nine boys born to women who taught in Room 5 now have severe developmental disabilities.

What is going on? Many worried parents and parent/teachers at the school want to know, and they packed an emergency meeting on Tuesday night to find out.

Was there something evil lurking in Room 5, they worried? Personally, I doubt it. But I do wonder about known neurotoxins lurking just outside the school, and especially mercury. (This is, after all, Northern New Jersey, the brunt of every poisonous pollution joke you can think of).

Perhaps not so remarkably then, the first thing to jump into most people's mind -- parents, teachers, town officials and reporters - was not "better diagnosis," but environmental toxins. The genetic theory largely flew out the open window like stale air on a warm spring day.

Even so, it was reported that recent tests for mold and asbestos turned up nothing, and now officials will search for signs of lead, volatile organic chemicals, and other neurotoxins inside the school. Local health authorities, meanwhile, noted that two EPA Superfund sites were located in town, but doubted that they could be implicated.

They might have looked a little closer. For example, within a half-mile radius or so, there are several companies who manufacture generic and name-brand pharmaceutical drugs.

New Jersey has one of the highest concentrations of drug factories in the world, and many of these facilities use mercury-derived products, such as thimerosal, to maintain sterility during production.

Companies like Merck have paid multi-million dollar fines for illegally discharging mercury, the state's largest non-carcinogenic pollutant, into New Jersey waterways. (In 1997, the pharmaceutical industry in this region released nearly five million pounds of pollutants, according to government records.

Meanwhile, back in Northvale, one of the pharmaceutical facilities was cited by state environmental officials for emitting more than 1,000 pounds of hazardous waste per month.

Other businesses not far from St. Anthony's make or finish metal products, a process that emits lead, cadmium and mercury into the air.

And, less than one block, or 200 feet from the school, sits the U.S. Headquarters of a major global manufacturer of mercury switches, batteries, and other electronic equipment made with the heavy metal.

Dr. Rosen, for one, thinks this is more than a coincidence.

"It's horrifying," he told me. "There is enough preliminary evidence to warrant a thorough investigation of all potential environmental neurotoxins that might be causing this."

The superintendent for public schools in Northvale, Jan Furman, agrees. She was unaware of the mercury-switch factory or the other plants nearby, but agreed that it was "very important," to find out more about their industrial activities and environmental controls.

No one knows why so many women who worked in Room 5 apparently gave birth to boys who were all developmentally disabled - but it seems too high a number to be a mere coincidence.

I am not saying these local businesses caused even a single case of disabilities. And perhaps the borough of Northvale is not the least bit toxic. But some people here believe that something, somewhere in the area, might be.

"I am certain there are environmental factors involved in many cases of autism and other developmental disorders," Dr. Rosen told me. "It is unscientific to believe that there are not." Some families do relocate to New Jersey for the many disabled services that are offered, he said. "But that is just part of it. We have unique environmental factors here as well, and we need to look into them."

So what does this have to do with vaccine court? Nothing directly, though it does provide evidence to refute the "all genetics, all the time" argument being offered up this week.

And, of course, if elevated mercury levels are detected in the air, soil or water around Room 5 at St. Anthony's, this could be taken into account by local health officials as a genuine risk factor for autism and other disorders. (I will be following and reporting on this developing story closely),

"If mercury from the environment could potentially harm these kids, then what about mercury from other sources, like vaccines?" Dr. Rosen asked. "There is no reason to think that one form of mercury would cause this neurotoxic effect, but not another."

And, he added, quite sincerely: "How we could do this to our own kids is just mind-boggling."

UPDATE: David Kirby posted to the Evidence of Harm list June 23rd:

19 out of 52 EPA regulated sites in Bergen Co are next to St Anthonys!!!!!

Here are the EPA regulated sites that are VERY CLOSE to the school. And I mean within smelling distance (and it smells, too), like 500 feet. Some are within 200 feet.

Weird thing is, from the school you are TOTALLY UNAWARE that any of this is nearby. You cannot see any of it.


Many of these sites have been cited by the EPA and State DEP for serious hazardous waste violations!

I was in Northvale today and saw ALL these places. Some people are growing their vegetable gardens just feet away. They don’t look like factories. They are “light industry” – one story cinderblock affairs, mostly, without window or even a company name, but with loading docks, so you know they make something there, and small air vents, rather than big smokestacks. Some are on a residential street behind the school, the others are in industrial parks hidden from town by trees (at least in the summer).

The industrial parks look like they were all developed in the last 10 years, which is when the teachers had their kids at St Anthonys.

There is another school on Walnut st


JUST TO THE NORTH (Industrial Ave, Union Ave, Pegasus Ave)

American Chemical and Gas Co

Barr Laboratories Pharmaceuticals

Bergen Steel Contractors

Control Screening Inc

Memco Inc

Minetto Enterprises

Northfield Foods Inc.

Takasago International Corp


Baltek - Alcan Corp.

Centrico Inc.

Dimensional Communications Inc

H Galow Co Inc.

Hausmann Industries, Inc.

Industrial Rivet and Fastener Co.

Inrad Inc.\

Liquid Solids Separation Group

Northvale Design and Development

Northvale Tire Corp

RAB Electric Mfg



I find evidence like this very worrying. I was born and brought up in a village which had a cement manufacturing plant and another a few miles along the coast. I recently read a report about how the process can allow heavy metals to be dispersed into the atmosphere.I remember that locals who lived very close to the plant were given a reduction in their council tax because of dust on their windows and car! Nice - the council appeared to care more about property than lives.

Lee said...

I find this worrying too.

I have a 100% hit rate (2 out of 2 kids with autism, and no genetic problems in my family). I grew up less than a mile away from Port Stanvac oil refinery in South Australia. I still remember the stinky gases it used to pump out - sometimes it was so bad we used to stay inside and shut the windows.

My near neighbour (2 doors away) also has a son with Asperger's. No known "genetics" problems in his family either.

Makes you wonder, huh?