Autism and the Indiana Environment Blog

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"Autism and the Indiana Environment" is a blog written by Bloomington Alternative editor Steven Higgs. It chronicles his journalistic exploration of the parallel rises of environmental pollution and autism in Indiana.

Higgs has been writing about Indiana's environment since he was a graduate student at the IU School of Journalism, where his 1985 final master's project was titled "Clearcutting the Hoosier National Forest: Professional Forestry or Panacea?" He covered environment and health as a staff writer at the Bloomington Herald-Times from 1985-1996.

The author of Eternal Vigilance: Nine Tales of Environmental Heroism in Indiana, IU Press, 1995, Higgs started specializing in children's environmental health while serving as a senior environmental writer at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management from 1996-2000.

His latest book, Twenty Years of Crimes Against Democracy: A Grassroots History of the I-69/NAFTA Highway, is available from The Bloomington Alternative's Products page. It isn't about autism, but it exposes the ugly side of Indiana politics, the side that produces the 49th worst environment in the nation.

Higgs is an adjunct lecturer at the IU School of Journalism and has been editor and publisher of The Bloomington Alternative since 2002.


August 11, 2012
Report: Insel should be fired from autism research panel
Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee biased against environmental studies.

The federal panel charged with allocating funds for autism research has squandered hundreds of millions in taxpayer money on ideological, nonscientific priorities. Its decisions have been financially irresponsible and practically ineffective. Its chairman should be fired and many board members replaced.

So says the Brooklyn-based Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy (EBCALA) in a stinging critique of autism policy under the Bush and Obama administrations titled "A Critical Review of the Performance of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee" (IACC).

January 8, 2012
Ohio valley mercury emissions poisoning the globe
Study finds mercury emitted into atmosphere transforms, enters food chain.

Mercury released from Ohio River Valley industries is damaging the brains of children around the world.

That's a conclusion that can be drawn from a University of Washington (UW) study published online Dec. 19 in the journal Nature Geoscience, which concludes mercury in the upper atmosphere can circulate for "long periods of time" before falling back to the Earth's surface.

August 7, 2011
'Children are not little adults'
Kids are more susceptible to toxic pollution

I was reminded of the phrase "children are not little adults" this past week when an assistant commissioner from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) wrote a letter to NUVO in Indianapolis challenging a story I wrote titled "Indiana's toxic air affecting children." I was working as an environmental writer at IDEM in the late 1990s when agency officials began using that soundbite to explain why children were more vulnerable to the effects of toxic pollution than were, say, their parents.

At that time, practically everything IDEM's Media and Communication Services did revolved around was the notion that toxic pollution disproportionately impacted children's health. Ipso facto, polluters needed to clean up their acts. I recall being told that the chief lobbyist for some of the state's most venal polluters accused then-IDEM Commissioner John Hamilton of "playing the kid card" over our emphasis on children's environmental health.

July 8, 2011
New study suggests link between autism, environment
Do Kentuckiana toxic releases cause developmental disability in Ohio River Valley children?.

A new study of California twins with autism strengthens the case that the epidemic that has swept the nation in the past three decades is related to environmental pollution. The damage, its authors suggest, occurs in the womb and during the earliest days of life.

"Increasingly, evidence is accumulating that overt symptoms of autism emerge around the end of the first year of life," say the authors of the study, which was released online July 4 in the Archives of General Psychiatry. "Because the prenatal environment and early postnatal environment are shared between twin individuals, we hypothesize that at least some of the environmental factors impacting susceptibility to autism exert their effect during this critical period of life."

April 30, 2011
Media, the environment, vaccines and autism

After an involuntary hiatus, it's always invigorating to re-engage the with the "real work" (Beat poet Gary Snyder's words), especially when the initial reconnect is celebratory in nature. Especially when the celebration involves an institution at the heart of the mission, in this case journalism.

And so, with a bow to journalist Robert MacNeil, I begin this summer's phase of my investigation into the twin epidemics of autism and developmental disabilities. His investigative report Autism Now, which aired on the PBS NewsHour in April, reacquainted me with the issues I'm exploring in the Ohio River Valley, where the rain is toxic and data show the kids just aren't quite right, developmentally speaking. Three years' into this project, I've not found a more honest or enlightened media report.

March 17, 2011
15 years later, even Finns' sperm is in decline

A new Finnish study linking environmental toxins to reproductive problems in young men reminded me of the ongoing, three-decade-old toxic assault on children's health and a speech I gave in 1995. The place was the annual meeting of the Indiana Environmental Institute (IEI) in downtown Indianapolis. The occasion was the release of my first book. The topic was sperm.

Before the talk, I figured I would never again have the undivided attention of the cream of the state's environmental stakeholders -- leaders from Indiana industry, government, academia and citizen groups, almost all white males. So I decided targeting their testicles might get their attention and be something they just might remember. I built the speech around an article the New Yorker had just published about worldwide declines in sperm count.

February 13, 2011
Student journalists; the autism epidemic is your generation's story to tell

I found myself on the other side of the journalistic equation this past week, when the Indiana Daily Student published a front-page story about my work on autism and the environment, including links between vaccines and the pervasive developmental disorder.

The story drew the expected shrill and vitriolic reaction from vaccine industry defenders, none of whom identify themselves by name. The comments section attracted more than three dozen responses from some of the highest (and lowest) profile actors in the national debate. What follows is my response to the fallout.

January 29, 2011
It rains mercury in Mitch Daniels' America

News from and about Indiana this past week should scare its citizens and the nation straight about the quality of leadership produced in the Hoosier state, and what role it should play in America's future.

A Jan. 26 study from the nonprofit group Environment America ranked Indiana fifth nationwide in the release of mercury into the environment. Two days later, CBS News reported that the first political ads of the 2012 presidential race will air during the NFL Pro Bowl game this weekend to promote Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

January 17, 2011
From pesticides to Earth Day to autism

While the world watched America respond to the Tucson Massacre, I've been preoccupied with how that same nation has reacted to tragedies of a different nature. I'm teaching a class this semester on the environment in the news, and for the first discussion I developed a timeline of environmental milestones and legislation in the post-World War II era, from early concerns over pesticides to the ongoing autism epidemic and global climate change.

A few glimmers of hope are tucked away in this particular view of American history -- especially the power public opinion wielded in the 1970s. But the nut graf to this tale isn't good. As illustrated by the following environmental retrospective, gleaned mostly from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the WorldWatch Institute and government Web sites, the milestones were mostly tragedies. And American leaders didn't react to them very well.

December 18, 2010
Cause of autism a cause for concern

A new study linking autism to a specific type of neurological problem has buttressed the case against one possible cause of the pervasive developmental disorder. And the conclusions are particularly compelling, given its release three months after the U.S. Vaccine Court awarded $20 million to a Georgia girl for the same condition.

The court ruled Hanna Poling's pre-existing mitochondrial disorder was aggravated by the MMR vaccine, which led to a brain disorder that manifested itself "with features of autism spectrum disorder." The just-published University of California-Davis study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found "children with autism were more likely to have mitochondrial dysfunction."

December 4, 2010
Autism Waiver cuts spell catastrophe in Indiana

If you think you're going to hike with Ron Habney, you'd better be prepared. The 6-foot-tall, 130-pound, 25-year-old treks an average four to six miles a day on some of the most challenging trails in Southern Indiana's Upland regions. Not everyday, to his chagrin, but multiple times a week. Last summer, on one 96-degree day, Ron hiked 9.4 miles through the Charles Deam Wilderness Area in two hours and 20 minutes.

So says John Willman, who knows. He's been Ron's hiking companion and caregiver for almost eight years now. "He's truly an athlete," John says of Ron. "His hiking skills are almost unmatched." Beneath close-cropped, thick, black hair, Willman's blue-green eyes beam proud-parent-like as he recounts Ron's on-trail achievements. But they're just a footnote to this rainy-gray November afternoon interview.

Ron has autism, and John, who is not Ron's parent, is preoccupied with his fate.

September 19, 2010
Family gets millions for vaccine-induced autism
Pediatricians continue denying role in worldwide epidemic

As the journal Pediatrics released the latest installment of what can only be called "head-in-the-sand autism science," the U.S. Vaccine Court in Washington D.C. reiterated a previous ruling that a vaccine did cause a Georgia girl's autism. And this time the "Special Masters," as the judges are called, assigned damages for that vaccine-induced injury at $20 million, more or less.

The case involves a girl named Hannah Poling, whose parents in 2002 sought compensation for the autistic symptoms she developed after receiving five shots with nine doses of vaccines in a single visit to her pediatrician when she was 19 months old. Her family -- father Jon is a neurologist -- presented such an airtight case that the government did not contest it.

September 12, 2010
Is Eli Lilly pursuing the presidency?
Candidate Daniels owes his soul to drug kingpin

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is seeking a national stage. And those who believe that the flow of mercury into American children's developing bodies should be stemmed and not supercharged should be on guard. "Indiana's very slight, very balding, very unimposing governor" -- Newsweek's words, not mine -- is no typical Hoosier mental mite like Dan Quayle, Evan Bayh or Mike Pence.

From 1987 to 1990, Daniels led the right-wing think tank Hudson Institute, which did then and still does receive generous funding from the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co., inventor of and primary profiteer from the mercury-based preservative thimerosal, a component of childhood vaccines suspected of contributing to the worldwide epidemic of autism. He left Hudson for an executive position at Lilly, where he rose to the position of senior vice president for corporate strategy before leaving in 2001 to head George W. Bush's Office of Management and Budget.

August 15, 2010
Senate hearing emphasizes environment-autism links
Age of Autism book explores history of mercury and mental disorders

Four experts from the government and academic autism research communities told a panel of U.S. senators on Aug. 3 that exposures to environmental toxins are a likely cause of the neurodevelopmental disorder in genetically predisposed individuals.

"ASDs [Autism Spectrum Disorders] could result from a variety of factors, including combinations of genes, environmental exposures and gene-environment interactions," EPA's Assistant Administrator for Research and Development and Science Advisor Paul Anastas said in a written version of his remarks to the Senate Environment and Public Works' Subcommittee on Children's Health.

Each expert delivered overviews of research into the connection between developmental disorders like autism and exposure to toxic chemicals, especially "heavy metals" like mercury, lead and arsenic. None, however, suggested that children who regressed into autism after receiving massive environmental exposure to mercury and aluminum in childhood vaccines were being or should be studied. Aluminum is also a known neurotoxin.

August 1, 2010
The first autistic kid in school

MOUNT VERNON, IND. -- Lisa Roach is alive with memories of Rozella Stewart. Until she entered Roach's 26-year-old son's life, no one quite knew what to do with him. Travis was the first autistic student in the local school system. He could talk and read like the other kids, but he couldn't sit still and presented all sorts of challenges.

After Travis was finally diagnosed with autism at age 8, Stewart, who in the early 1990s headed the Institute for Study of Developmental Disabilities (ISDD) at Indiana University, delivered the Roach family one of its first glimpses of hope when she brought a team of experts to town to educate the educators about autism. Her tongue-in-cheek predictions of when the family's life would settle down elicits a belly laugh today from Roach, who laughs long, hard and often when discussing life with Travis.

"I'd say, 'Is he going to calm down?'" she says. "She'd say, 'Oh, they get about 23, and they'll calm down, a little bit.' Well, that didn't happen at 23."

July 11, 2010
Poisoned slowly in the 'Polluted Triangle'

ROCKPORT, IND. -- Rex Winchell would satisfy just about any conceivable interpretation of the Hoosier colloquialism tough old bird. The 84-year-old Rockport citizen speaks proudly of the decade he spent in the military and working with military outfits in North America and Europe. When relating a story about an unpleasant conversation he recently had with a local public official, he says he's glad it was on the telephone and not in person. "I probably would have spent a little time in the pokey," he says, "because I would have made a change in his face or some other portion of his anatomy."

Winchell is similarly blunt when talking about those who sanction and operate the 17 coal-fired power plants in what he calls Indiana's "Polluted Triangle," from Terre Haute to Tell City to Evansville and back to Terre Haute. "If I walked out here on the streets of Rockport, Ind., and blew away as many as 15 people," he says, "... I'd end up either having my hide fried or a term of life in prison. But, to have people poison slowly the entire population of an area." His voice trails off at the notion.

July 4, 2010
Autism's generation gap, a lesson re-learned

MOUNT VERNON, IND. -- Every conversation I've had with parents of Americans with autism has been riddled with salient moments, when essential truths are revealed about this extraordinarily complex developmental disorder. "Ah ha!" moments, so to speak. Such was the case with my July 2 conversation with Lisa Roach, who lives just outside the Ohio River town of Mount Vernon, Ind.

I had driven to the Posey County capital with Bloomington Alternative intern Megan Erbacher, who had grown up just down the road and has been friends with Roach's daughter Chelsea since childhood. Lisa's oldest, 26-year-old Travis, has Asperger's Disorder, which is commonly known as "high-functioning autism." While his symptoms had been evident for years, Travis wasn't diagnosed until he was 8. At that time, Lisa learned Travis was the first autistic child in the Mount Vernon school system.

June 27, 2010
Deep in the heart of toxic valley

ROCKPORT, IND. -- Crossing the Ohio River into Indiana from Owensboro, Ky., travelers are greeted with an image far more symbolic of Hoosier life than the tiny little "Indiana Welcomes You" sign that greets them now, or the billboards that dot Southwest Indiana highways featuring Abraham Lincoln, who spent part of his childhood just a few miles to the west of the William H. Natcher Bridge.

Indeed, the Hoosier state's howdy dominates the horizon a couple hazy miles before the bridge, when fat plumes of opaque-white air pollution from the Rockport Power Plant first appear. The coal-fired plant's twin cooling towers greet passing motorists with a hearty, "Welcome to Indiana, Land of Pollution." Minutes up U.S. 231, the box-like AK Steel plant rises just off the roadway to the east, adding an exclamation point to the greeting.

June 6, 2010
Simplifying the definition of autism
Asperger's apparently doesn't exist

I spent the past week organizing and reviewing my research on the connections between autism and the environment, which once again reminded me just how little anyone -- experts, doctors, parents, journalists, whoever -- actually knows about the subject. The only truth I've found in almost two years immersed in the subject is that definitive answers to the most fundamental questions about autism -- What is it? What causes it? What can be done about it? -- are virtually nonexistent.

On a journalistic level, that's pretty damned exciting. There's always something new to explore and write about. But on a societal level, it's downright scary. Take the what-is-it angle. Here we have a range of mental disorders that, depending on how the spectrum is defined, impacts the lives and families of roughly one out of every 100 American children. Scientists and experts have studied it for more than 70 years. And yet, they haven't even agreed to a firm diagnosis.

May 23, 2010
'Poisoned for Profit' -- the truth and nothing but
After having endured multiple viewings of the PBS documentary "The Vaccine War" and reconstructive surgery on my right knee in recent weeks, I can't say emphatically enough what a breath of sweet, clean oxygen it was to find a copy of Philip and Alice Shabecoff's book Poisoned for Profit in my P.O. box when I got out of the hospital.

The book, the subtitle of which is How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill, is no feel-good read, to be sure. Not by any stretch. But it serves as a reminder that there are honest, truth-telling journalists out there who engage their craft the way it's supposed to be engaged.

April 25, 2010
EPA study suggests autism-environment link
A new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study lends support to the argument that some children are susceptible to autism as a consequence of their exposures to environmental toxins.

At least part of the dramatic increase in autism diagnoses the past two decades cannot be explained by improving and expanding diagnostics, Michael E. McDonald and John F. Paul from EPA's National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory conclude in a seven-page study in the March 15 issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

April 25, 2010
'The Vaccine War' on FRONTLINE
When J.B. Handley told me about Jackson County, Ore., a few weeks ago, I wondered why no one had looked at autism rates there. The county of about 200,000 located just north of the California border has one of the largest populations of unvaccinated children in the nation. And, as Handley suggested, those kids' medical histories are natural subjects for studies on the cause-effect relation between autism and vaccines.

Well, as I contemplated whether I might find a way to follow up on this angle from 2,000 miles away, I learned that the PBS series FRONTLINE will air a documentary titled "The Vaccine War" this Tuesday, April 27, that will explore not only the conflict between the vaccine industry and parents who believe immunizations caused their children's autism, but also the situation in Jackson County.

April 18, 2010
J.B. Handley: Tobacco science in its early phase
J.B. Handley concluded long ago that mercury is but one component in childhood vaccines that could be contributing to the epidemics of autism and developmental disabilities in American children. And after following two decades of ferocious debate and misdirected, inadequate study, he finds the topic a bit outmoded, the question a non sequitur. He answers it with a series of questions.

"Do I know that it and it alone is why we have all these kids with autism?" the co-founder of Generation Rescue said of mercury, a neurotoxin used for decades in childhood vaccines. "... How am I supposed to know whether it was the (mercury-laden) thimerosal, the aluminum, the antigen, the timing of the shot, the combination of the shots or all of the above? How in the world could I divine that?"

April 11, 2010
Did anyone hear Bernadine Healy?
I’ve written about controversial debates like vaccines and autism long enough to know when to expect emotional reactions and what they mean. Along with finding and reporting the best version of the truth available, reacting to critics and re-evaluating how you do what you do is part of the journalist’s job description. Among the things I do: I consider e-mails from critics and readers private and not-for-publication, and I refrain from engaging them in long debates.

I do consider issues raised by critics and my responses fodder for publication, however. And in recent weeks I have written more than once that one of the closest truths I have found on this subject is a July 2008 CBS News interview with former National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Bernadine Healy.

April 4, 2010
J.B. Handley: It's unequivocal: vaccines hurt some kids
Nothing makes J.B. Handley laugh more quickly than the suggestion that he and other parents who question the safety of the American vaccine schedule are "radicals." The Portland, Ore., businessman is a managing partner in a leverage buyout fund. And when it came to vaccinating their first two children, he and wife Lisa religiously followed the vaccination schedule set by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"We were as mainstream as they come," the father of three said during a telephone interview. "We were the ones who followed the letter of the law."

March 14, 2010
Mitch Daniels: Unhealthy for children and other living things
When Gov. Mitch Daniels told the Washington Post last month that he "will now stay open to the idea" of a 2012 presidential bid, Indiana's scourge became the nation's. Americans who worry that environmental exposures to industrial chemicals can lead to chronic illnesses and diseases like autism, asthma and cancer should be on alert:

Mitch Daniels is not your typical laughing-stock Hoosier politician, like Dan Quayle or Evan Bayh. He poses a serious threat to human health and the environment.

March 7, 2010
Do vaccines cause autism?
This is the time of year when classroom responsibilities overwhelm my journalistic passions, and my writing tends to be more reflection than exposition. And let me tell you, nothing spurs reflexive contemplation like finding yourself in polar opposition to someone whose life work has profoundly influenced your own.

In my case, that someone is Dr. Philip J. Landrigan from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, whose research at the Children's Environmental Health Center there first caught my attention in the late 1990s when I was a senior environmental writer at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). When I began exploring the links between toxic pollution and autism 17 months ago, a 2006 study Landrigan co-wrote titled "Developmental neurotoxicity of industrial chemicals" was the first link that Google produced when I searched for "autism and environment."

February 28, 2010
Landrigan calls for more research into autism-environment link
One of the nation's leading voices on children's environmental health has called for focused and expanded research into the cause-effect relation between industrial chemicals and autism.

"Long and tragic experience that began with studies of lead and methylmercury has documented that toxic chemicals can damage the developing human brain to produce a spectrum of neurodevelopmental disorders," Dr. Philip Landrigan from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine wrote in a Jan. 16, 2010, article in the medical journal Current Opinion in Pediatrics.

February 21, 2010
Life on the edge of the autism epidemic
Marty Pieratt's awareness of autism began when the 1988 movie Rain Man was being filmed in Cincinnati, a year or so before his son, Carter, was born. Pieratt worked as a reporter on local television, and his editors assigned him stories on autism, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. In the movie, Hoffman plays an autistic savant, Cruise his long-lost brother. "I can remember doing stories on autism," Pieratt said. "But little did I know that I'd personally be faced with the quintessential autism story."

January 31, 2010
Autism drives special ed funding hikes
The costs associated with the autism epidemic are often hard to quantify. No dollar amount can be broadly ascribed to the personal, familial and social costs that will be extracted by the generation of disabled kids America has produced since the Reagan Revolution of the early 1980s. No one claims to know for sure how many of them there are, let alone what they cost. But 30 years worth of data recorded in annual "Special Education Statistical Reports" from the Indiana Department of Education (DoE) offer some hints.

January 24, 2010
Educating the Ohio Valley's special kids
Growing up in the Ohio River town of Evansville, Ind., is hazardous to a child's developmental health. According to data from the Indiana Department of Education (DoE), 22 percent of students in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation receive special education services.

January 17, 2010
'Evidence of Harm' revisited, Part 3
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Anyone with a passing knowledge of Indiana’s political and business cultures would not be surprised to learn state leaders played feature roles in one of the first great scandals of the George W. Bush administration. Or that the episode involved perhaps the greatest environmental disaster of the postmodern age -- the intravenous exposure of an entire generation of children to a powerful neurotoxin.

January 10, 2010
'Evidence of Harm' revisited, Part 2
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Five years after the publication of his book on autism and mercury in vaccines, David Kirby finds much of the ongoing debate on both subjects rather tiresome. Before dismissing the notion that the connection between the two has been debunked, he pauses. He only wishes the public discourse were focused there.

January 3, 2010
'Evidence of Harm' revisited, Part 1
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Two days before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its newest data on U.S. autism rates, author David Kirby consented to a two-hour, videotaped interview in his street-level brownstone apartment in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. The government, the former New York Times reporter said, always drops its worst news late on Fridays, assuming the attention-addled mainstream media will forget it by Monday, when people actually pay some attention.

December 27, 2009
Defeating autism, now
MOUNT VERNON, IND. - When she discusses her autistic clients, Marcella Piper-Terry almost always speaks in reverential and laudatory tones. "They're just absolutely gorgeous children," she says of kids with Asperger's Disorder, such as her 15-year-old daughter Rachel. "Great big eyes, long eyelashes -- amazing, beautiful children. And very smart, very creative and extremely sensitive. Extremely sensitive."

December 20, 2009
Autism epidemic in Monroe County
BLOOMINGTON, IND. - Data from local school and federal public health officials suggest that children in Monroe County, Ind., are diagnosed with autism at nearly double the epidemic rate that afflicts the nation.

December 13, 2009
The Ohio Valley's heavy metal kids
MOUNT VERNON, IND. - Listening to Marcella Piper-Terry detail her journey from artist to autism researcher is like any conversation with someone whose life has been touched by the pervasive developmental disorder. It sometimes takes the breath away.

December 6, 2009
Seeking the cause of autism
BLOOMINGTON, IND. - The dogged pursuit of the unanswerable question, "What causes autism?" could be considered a health hazard. It requires poring over reams of studies, most of whose contents could reasonably be expected to induce paranoia. Mental fatigue from considering the studies' considerable contradictions is a distinct possibility, for sure. And the energy with which the proponents of these competing conclusions defend the arguments could lead to high blood pressure for all concerned.

November 29, 2009
Southwest Indiana kids enveloped in toxins
EVANSVILLE, IND. - John Blair readily agrees that Southwest Indiana is the perfect laboratory in which to explore the connection between industrial pollution and the increasing incidence of autism and other developmental disabilities. He has witnessed both sides of the equation in his three decades as president of the environmental group Valley Watch.

November 21, 2009
IAN survey: Indiana medicates more for autism than nation
BLOOMINGTON, IND. - Indiana citizens with autism are 20 percent more likely to be medicated than their counterparts are nationwide, according to an ongoing survey by the Interactive Autism Network (IAN). The disparities effectively hold across the three main diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs):

November 15, 2009
Introduction: 'Autism and the Indiana Environment' blog
BLOOMINGTON, IND. - It's been a year since John McCain piqued my reporter's curiosity about the parallel epidemics of autism and environmental pollution that have swept our nation the past couple decades, a journalistically productive and, sadly, intellectually reaffirming 12-month period, to be sure. Since the Arizona senator announced on the campaign trail last year that he would find the cause of autism if elected, I have pursued the question through interviews with parents, clinicians, advocates, physicians and researchers; stories, articles and books; and more than a few studies and videos.

Related stories by Steven Higgs

The Ohio Valley's Toxic Kids NUVO, Feb. 3, 2010
Defeating Autism, Now, CounterPunch, Dec. 29, 2009
Heavy Metal Kids, CounterPunch, Dec. 17, 2009
Growing Up Toxic, CounterPunch, Nov. 30, 2009
Tidal Wave of Autism, Indiana Alumni Magazine, November/December 2009
Autism spikes, toxic pollution suspected, Bloomington Alternative - Nov. 1, 2009
Mama, Dada, and Nano?, The Progressive - October 2009
Indiana's Dubious Legacy: Autism and Toxic Pollution, CounterPunch - May 5, 2009
Indiana: High rates of autism, toxic pollution, Bloomington Alternative - April 19, 2009
'Environmental hits' suspected cause of autism, Bloomington Alternative - April 5, 2009
Treating a little-understood condition, Bloomington Alternative - March 22, 2009
One of a kind -- autistic and epileptic, Bloomington Alternative - March 8, 2009
On the rise: Autism and the release of toxic chemicals, NUVO - March 4, 2009*
Living with Asperger's, Bloomington Alternative - Feb. 22, 2009
'If you know one person with autism', Bloomington Alternative - Feb. 8, 2009
Hoosiers: Tax us for the environment!, Bloomington Alternative - Jan. 11, 2009
Indiana: Still toxic after all these years, Bloomington Alternative - Dec. 28, 2008
The Environmental Factors: Tracking the Causes of Autism, CounterPunch print edition - Dec. 1-31, 2008
Autism research 'ominous but inconclusive', Bloomington Alternative - Nov. 30, 2008

* This article won Second Place from the Society of Professional Journalists for Best Coverage of the Environment in 2009.