The Dangers of Thimerosal and Mercury

In June of 1999, the Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products in Europe, the equivalent of the U.S.’s FDA, completed an 18-month inquiry into the risks and benefits of using thimerosal in vaccines. They concluded that, “although there is not evidence of harm caused by the level of exposure from vaccines, it would be prudent to promote the general use of vaccines without thimerosal.” It was then that the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) confirmed that thimerosal was present in over 30 licenses vaccines in the U.S. in concentrations of 0.003% to 0.01%. CBER than make the remarkable discovery than the mercury intake through vaccination in the first six months of life exceeded the limit set by the EPA.

Mercury is the second most toxic element on earth to plutonium. Toxicity of mercury has been linked to many different diseases, including autism, learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, depression, and bipolar disorder. The amount of mercury found in one mercury thermometer is enough to pollute a small lake.

Health effects of mercury toxicity have been a concern because of the potential for it to act as a poison. Toxic doses of mercury can cause developmental effects in the fetus, as well as affecting the kidney and the nervous system in children and adults. Mercury exists in a number of different chemical forms, each one consisting of different levels of toxicity. The forms of mercury can also be converted from one to another in the environment and in the body, so symptoms caused by mercury poisoning depends on the precise chemical forms involved.

Mercury can be toxic when inhaled, eaten, or when placed on the skin. Low concentrations of mercury may appear to have no effect but signs of toxicity can develop later or become more noticeable with continued exposure. When toxicity in humans takes place loss of feeling or a burning sensation in arms and legs, psychological effects, loss of memory, loss of vision, loss of hearing, paralysis, congenital malformations, kidney toxicity, and death may occur. Prenatal toxicity can result in a child with normal appearance at birth but who later exhibits a developmental delay in the ability to walk and/or talk. Because of the long latent period for observable effects, the need for treatment may be recognized too late.

Health effects vary according to the amount of mercury exposure is taken into the body. The health risks of mercury at low levels of exposure remain uncertain, but this continues to be a highly debatable topic with ongoing scientific investigation. Fetuses, infants and small children appear to be particularly sensitive to mercury because their brains are still developing. Vaccines with mercury have been considered to contribute to autism, learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other neurological conditions, and an FDA review conducted in 1998 determined that, at the time, children who received the full complement of childhood vaccines were potentially exposed to levels of mercury that were sometimes 30 to 50 times the acceptable levels established by the EPA.

High-level exposures to mercury can cause serious effects or even be lethal. Several historical examples of epidemic mercury poisonings in other parts of the world provide classic examples of investigative epidemiology and toxicology and serve to highlight the reasons why regulators are concerned about mercury. Effects on the brain and nervous system are frequently seen with high-level exposures to mercury and can be quite severe.

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