Friday, July 18, 2008

Environmental Toxins and Autism in Indiana

Here we go again. Today is the third day in a row that the Evansville and Southwestern Indiana are are under Ozone and Particulate Matter alerts. Our air is unsafe for sensitive populations including children, senior citizens, those with asthma, and other health conditions.

I just finished responding to an article in today's Courier & Press Newspaper, regarding the surplus in Indiana's budget as a result of Governor Mitch Daniel's fiscal policies.

Another article in today's paper indicates that Governor Daniels has slated that a considerable amount of money from the surplus will be available to the educational system for their "rainy day fund."

As far as autism is concerned, it's raining.

Governor Daniels, in his push to move Indiana's bank account to the black, has accomplished many things, including pushing for the establishment of more coal-burning power plants and more industry to exploit our natural coal reserves, comparing Indiana to the Middle East and its oil fields.

Unfortunately, the increase in pollution resulting from these actions is likely to not only negate any positive financial gains, but has to potential to impact the entire United States (and beyond) as Indiana's crops (wheat, corn, soy, milk, and eggs) are polluted with environmental toxins as a result of increased mercury, lead, antimony, cadmium, and bismuth from the power-plants.

This is nothing new. What follows is the text of a post from last year, on this same blog:

To Whom it may concern:

I moved to Indiana four years ago from Washington D.C. I have worked for ten years as an educational consultant and advocate and conduct neuropsychological evaluations of adults and children - something I did in D.C. for three years prior to moving here. The children in Indiana are different from the children in D.C. or those I evaluated in Mississippi and Alabama years ago. When there are differences among peer-groups from one geographic location to another, we need to look at environmental influences as a contributing factor.

I was born in California. I have lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Washington D.C. I looked forward to moving to Indiana, especially after living through 9/11 and the Sniper incidents. I expected the midwest to be clean and quiet. It is quiet, but it is not clean. The air here is the worst I have ever seen at the surface level (the air be breathe). The incidence of asthma, emphysema, allergies, and cancer is staggering. During the first several months following my relocation, I worked as a school psychologist for the EVSC - Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation - doing evaluations of children with developmental disabilities. I was heart-sick at the number and severity of problems in the children here. These are the sickest children I have ever seen.

With the recent increase in suicides, everyone is scratching their heads and asking themselves, "How can this be happening?" "What's going on in the mental and emotional lives of these people?"This is not a "mental health" problem, it is a HEALTH problem! What is the common factor? We all breathe the same poisoned air.

Indiana's state government entices big business to locate here so the economy can "boom" and people will have more money in their pockets when they die. The counties of southwestern Indiana (Vanderburgh, Warrick, Spencer, Pike, and Posey) are targets for big business and big polluters. In 2004, Alcoa and Sigeco (both in counties neighboring Vanderburgh) were listed in the top five nation-wide for the amount of toxins (sulfur-dioxide, nitrogen-dioxide, lead, mercury, tin, aluminum, cadmium, and arsenic, etc.) spewed into the air. Things have not changed for the better since 2004.

I recently spent the day visiting the EPA website and looking at the data from the latest Toxic Release Information (TRI, 2005). Looking at the information for Warrick County (Alcoa, Sigeco, and VIGO Coal), one can see that the amount of toxins going into our air is rising, not declining. Of particular concern are levels of barium, lead, manganese, mercury, and vanadium.

The following information is from: EPA TRI Explorer Report (COFA)

Releases: Facility Report

BARIUM COMPOUNDS 374,487 (pounds)

BARIUM COMPOUNDS 241,245 (pounds)

BARIUM COMPOUNDS 329,005 (pounds)

There are many other toxins of concern, including high levels of copper, nickel, bismuth, and cadmium. However, for the question regarding the increase in suicides, I believe these are especially relevant. I have provided information regarding the physiological effects of these compounds, as well as symptoms of toxicity.

The following information is taken from the Toxic and Nutrient Elements Chart (Genova Diagnostics):

Barium 944,737 pounds released into air, water, soil, by Alcoa, Sigeco, & Vigo Coal in 2005: Displaces potassium and increases stress hormone (catecholamines). High levels may trigger ventricular fibrillation, broncho-constriction, and brain swelling.

Symptoms of toxicity: Difficulties in breathing, increased blood pressure, changes in heart rhythm, stomach irritation, brain swelling, muscle tingling/weakness. May damage heart, liver, kidneys and spleen.

Lead 195,665 pounds released into air, water, ground by Alcoa, Sigeco, & Vigo in 2005: Lead binds to hemoglobin, deposits in bone, aorta, kidney tubules, brain, adrenal, thyroid, liver. Inhibits heme synthesis, may depress mitochondrial respiratory chain. ATP-ases also affected.

Symptoms of toxicity: Microcytic anemia, glycosuria, cognitive dysfunction, anorexia, metallic taste, insomnia, reticulocytosis. Target organs include the brain, bone, blood, kidneys, and thyroid gland.

Mercury 1072 pounds released into air, water, soil by Alcoa, Sigeco, & Vigo in 2005: The organic form is readily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract (90-100%); lesser but still significant amounts of inorganic mercury are absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract (7-15%). Organic mercury has a half-life of 2 months & binds to enzymes, proteins, and glutathione. MAO, catalase, P-450, and mitochondrial functions are affected. Accumulates also in the liver and kidneys.

Symptoms of toxicity: Headache, fine tremor, increased salivation, excitability, hypertension, skin rash, poor mental concentration, metallic taste. Target organs are the brain and kidneys.

Manganese 484,943 pounds released into air, water, soil by Alcoa, Sigeco, & Vigo Coal in 2005: Key in mitochondrial superoxide dismutase. cAMP and intracellular calcium levels are modified with manganese. Deficiency results in abnormal arginase and Krebs cycle conversion of pyruvate to oxaloacetate. Also crucial for bone and connective tissue.

Symptoms of toxicity: (Rare), by inhalation or mining activities. Poor bone/connective tissue growth. Impaired glucose tolerance and lipid metabolism, skin dryness, hair changes, allergies, behavioral problems.

Vanadium 1,067,259 pounds released into air, water, & soil by Alcoa, Sigeco, & Vigo Coal in 2005: Quite active in physiologic systems, with three main types of actions. Competes with phosphate and other metals for binding sites on proteins. Shows insulin-like effects and increases cAMP formation thus accounting for its enhancement of cellular phosphorylation. Studies show high levels associated with bipolar disorder in some cases.

Symptoms of toxicity: Toxicity at high levels is reported and can occur via inhaled vapors as products of combustion. Symptoms can include; arthritis, aching bones, jaw, teeth, tonsils, ears, weakened immune system, chronic colds, gastrointestinal problems, trabecular bone loss, green tongue coloration.

Obviously there are multiple factors involved in the breakdown of our health system (mental and physical). The shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds has received a lot of press recently. I agree, there is a pressing need for more psychiatrists and more facilities, both inpatient and outpatient. However, unless we start looking at the causes of the increase in mental and physical illness, we are likely to find ourselves in an endless cycle of adding more facilities and more beds with the outcome being the same: It will never be enough.



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