The real value in the Wakefield autism study

Only one in five of the chemicals we use every day have ever been tested to see whether they are impacting the future health of kids before they're born.

One easy way for me to get traffic here at ZDNet Healthcare has always been to mention autism. (Picture from the Autism Prevention blog.)

The biggest controversy is over a 1998 study from Andrew Wakefield (right), since withdrawn by its publisher, linking autism to mercury in MMR vaccines.

This has resulted in a massive anti-vaccine movement, one I have condemned. And each condemnation is followed by pushback from those on the other side.

The controversy grew so intense some observers began questioning whether scientific journals were objective at all.

But maybe he was on to one thing. Maybe toxins are causing autism.

Current Opinion in Pediatrics makes the case.

Children today are surrounded by thousands of synthetic chemicals. Two hundred of them are neurotoxic in adult humans, and 1000 more in laboratory models. Yet fewer than 20% of high-volume chemicals have been tested for neurodevelopmental toxicity

Only one in five of the chemicals we use every day have ever been tested to see whether they are impacting the future health of kids before they're born.

The author of these comments was Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, chairman of Mount Sinai Medical's department of preventive medicine. You can argue this is special pleading. There is a lot of money to be made in studying environmental chemicals.

But this concern about chemicals causing autism is now a mainstream view, as Nick Kristof of The New York Times notes. And we're not just talking about pollution, either, like the tons of mercury that get into air and water from burning coal, but things in your home right now, like phthalates and BPA in plastics.

This is one of the curious things about science, especially medical science. Sometimes even a wrong turn can lead to opening the right door.

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