'Autism and the Indiana Environment Blog'
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).
"From the controversial appointment or retention of committee representatives, to the troublesome history of committee members themselves, to the lack of accountability for the few advances made in autism research, to the questionable direction of the Strategic Plan, it is fair to state that the IACC is not living up to Congress’ and the public’s expectations," the July 10, 2012, report says.
The pernicious impact of toxic chemicals in the body, from suspected roles in autism to human response to everyday stress, can manifest themselves in future generations, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Texas (UT) and Washington State University (WSU).
Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the animal study found DNA changes wrought by a common fungicide are passed down from parents to offspring, according to a May 22, 2012, UT news release. The researchers studied how the animals respond to stress.
“The ancestral exposure of your great-grandmother alters your brain development to then respond to stress differently,” said WSU professor Michael Skinner.
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.
“Much of emitted mercury is deposited far from its original sources,” the paper's lead author Seth Lyman said in a UW news release. “Mercury emitted on the other side of the globe could be deposited right at our back door, depending on where and how it is transported, chemically transformed and deposited.”
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.
It's hard to tell from the outside how much children's environmental health drives the IDEM agenda under Mitch Daniels, but the agency's Website and a story written for the Indiana Daily Student last year by one of my students suggests at least one program maintains the focus.
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."
After an involuntary hiatus, it's always invigorating to re-engage 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.
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 counts.
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 profile actors in the national debate. What follows is my response to the fallout.
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.
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.