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Lawmakers call for Bush autism conference

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WASHINGTON, Jul 23, 2003 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Lawmakers, researchers and parents Wednesday called on President Bush to convene a conference of health experts to tackle ballooning autism rates among American children.

Recent reports suggest as many as out of every 150 American kids may have the disease - up from 1 in 10,000 just a decade ago - in an epidemic laying siege to American families that could cost the American economy between $200 and $400 billion by 2010, according to autism support groups.

A group of lawmakers said Wednesday that Bush should convene the conference because U.S. health agencies have so far failed to investigate the epidemic.

"I feel very strongly that NIH [the National Institutes of Health] and the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] have failed to do the necessary research," said Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., a physician.

Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton, whose grandson has autism, and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic presidential candidate, also called on Bush to ratchet up government work on autism.

"It is time for a White House conference on autism," said Kucinich. Kucinich said 1.5 million Americans might suffer from the condition.

The White House did not return a phone call seeking comment on the issue.

A panel of researchers discussed possible environmental causes for the epidemic, including mercury exposure from vaccines. The mercury-based additive called thimerosal was particularly prevalent during the 1990's -- when vaccine doses for children doubled and autism rates skyrocketed.

"As a physician, I am particularly concerned about the safety of our vaccine supply," Weldon said.

Doctors discussed studies that appear to show that children with autism may not be able to secrete mercury, poisoning them, and discussed research that appears to show a correlation between increasing exposure to mercury from vaccines and rising brain problems in children.

Some doctors expressed anger at government health experts who they said are ignoring the problem. Government health agencies set childhood vaccination schedules.

"What we have here are some bureaucrats who want to keep this under cover," said Boyd Haley, chairman of the Chemistry Department at the University of Kentucky.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June 2000 called for the removal of thimerosal from vaccines "because any potential risk from mercury is of concern." But the agency said, "However, there remains no convincing evidence of harm caused by low levels of thimerosal in vaccines."

In October 2001, an Institute of Medicine panel found that it is "biologically plausible" that thimerosal causes autism, but that, "current scientific evidence neither proves nor disproves a link."

Vaccine manufacturers say their products are likely not to blame.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International.

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