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Time was when we sauntered through the days and years not only not worried about the mercury we lived with, but rather fascinated by all of its apparent properties…dangerous properties, it turns out, for many – fatal. Our mouths could be full of it, our thermometers have always relied on it for taking temperatures, we’re injected with it, we swim in pools where it’s part of the purification system (chlorine), and we light our spaces with it – in both bulbs and switches.
A lot of the descriptions of the terrible things mercury can do to us can be found on a variety of websites, including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), and some of it is enlightening, if not as cautionary as it might be. Here’s part of what the MPCA’s description says:
Mercury is a silvery, liquid metal at room temperature - the only metal known to exist in liquid form naturally. It is sometimes referred to as one of the "heavy metals." Like water, mercury can evaporate and become airborne. Because it is an element, mercury does not break down into less toxic substances. Once mercury escapes to the environment, it circulates in and out of the atmosphere until it ends up in the bottoms of lakes and oceans. Depending on its chemical form, mercury may travel long distances before it falls to earth with precipitation or dust..
Bacteria and chemical reactions in lakes and wetlands change the mercury into a much more toxic form known as methylmercury. Fish become contaminated with methylmercury by eating food (plankton and smaller fish), which has absorbed methylmercury.
As long as the fish continue to be exposed to mercury, mercury continually builds up in their flesh. Fish that eat other fish become even more highly contaminated. Thus, the fish most desirable for many anglers -- bass, walleye and northern pike -- become the most affected, and larger fish tend to be the most contaminated.
When people eat contaminated fish, methylmercury remains in their bodies for a long time. If they eat fish containing methylmercury faster than their bodies can get rid of it, the methylmercury accumulates in their bodies and can be toxic. Many states, including Minnesota, have fish consumption advisories to inform people about how many meals of fish they can safely eat over a period of time.
That should be frightening enough, but we also take the deadly mercury into our bodies and blood streams by several other common means – our dental fillings (amalgams), flu shots and, although less so these days, other vaccines. Mercury amalgam fillings alone are believed to give off more mercury – which we breathe and swallow – than all the fish we eat and foul air we breathe combined, say researchers.
Many groups and agencies have been fighting to rid us of mercury absorption. Most of them are focused on reducing the mercury emissions from coal plants or getting rid of medical thermometers and keeping schools, where it’s already banned, free of the stuff.
As the world’s biggest exporter of mercury, the US is nevertheless banned from exporting “elemental” mercury – the kind you can see in beads rolling around a tray or in your hand, as we used to do. We can’t do much about “atmospheric” mercury, except stop burning coal and other minerals that contain the stuff.
The effort to put tough controls on the use and production of mercury in our lives is global, but powerful forces with vested billions in its use are at work to minimize those controls. Money controls the controls.
TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and MICHELLE ALIMORADI discuss the serious toxic health threats we face from the various sources and uses of mercury with a variety of mercury watchdogs.
KAREN MONAHAN – Environmental Justice Organizer, Sierra Club Central Region
LEA FOUSHEE – Director of Environmental Justice, North American Water Office; Author, Sacred Water: Water for Life
LEO CASHMAN – Executive Director, Dental Amalgam Mercury Solutions (DAMS)
BRUCE MONSON – Research Scientist, Environmental Analysis & Outcome Division, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)
TruthToTell Nov 28: HPV AND VACCINATIONS: Dangerous Liaisons?-AUDIO BELOW
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Should 12-year-old girls (and boys, for that matter) be forced into vaccinations against the now ubiquitous sexually transmitted disease (STD), human papillomavirus – or HPV – in anticipation of their eventual sexual encounters and the likelihood of infection? HPV has been shown as a major cause of cervical cancer in women. Other manifestations include genital warts.
The issue of mandatory HPV vaccinations was brought into sharp relief during one of the half million Republican debates this year when candidate Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann stated – erroneously, it turned out – that a mandatory vaccination for HPV had resulted in “mental retardation” (developmental disability) in one girl. The issue’s been on the front burner ever since, for which anti-vaccination advocates have cheered. Still, other reactions to the drugs have raised concerns, especially in those for whom a regular pap smear has been so effective.
Because adverse reactions to these vaccines can be severe, advocates are raising serious questions about the haste involved in their approval, the quickly passed mandates in some states to vaccinate children, and the adverse effects the vaccines are having on many of those girls, some of whom have died in the wake of the series of shots required for the immunity to take, others of whom have been reported as permanently disabled. Far fewer adverse events have been reported for Cervarix, but its use has been very low.
Despite the near-epidemic nature of this genital disease – there are 30-plus HPV types, the FDA-approved vaccines themselves –Merck Pharmaceuticals’ Gardasil (approved 2006) and Glaxo-Smith-Kline’s Cervarix (2009) – treat the four most common types in boys and girls 9-26 years old (10-25 for Cervarix). In most cases, it appears, the reaction has been an allergic one. Glaxo-Smith-Kline, for example warns loudly that anyone with a latex allergy should not be vaccinated with Cervarix.
Over 20,000 adverse events have been reported to the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) following Gardasil injections, nearly all of them involving females. Officially, VAERS recorded 71 Gardasil deaths as of September, but the CDC takes care to warn about half are medically confirmed. Others, like Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota, the National Vaccine Information Center, and Citizens for Health see deeper issues – like politicians’ ties to drug companies.
The disputes seem to lie between VAERS and those who believe the adverse reactions are enough to fight the drugs’ use altogether, especially the state mandates that leave little room for parents to refuse the shots, unless medically ordered or religiously violating.
We’ve assembled a cadre of medical and ethical luminaries along with some advocates to try putting the issues in perspective and give guidance to listeners/viewers and families. Join TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and MICHELLE ALIMORADI as we query guests about the rights and wrongs and the dilemmas of both the diseases and the vaccines developed to conquer them.
ARTHUR CAPLAN, PhD –Director of the Center for Bioethics; Sydney D Caplan Professor of Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; former Professor and Director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics.
DIANE HARPER, MD, MPH, MS – Obstetrician/Gynecologist, Researcher, University of Missouri-Kansas City; researcher, clinician and educator in the field of HPV associated diseases, especially focused on the prevention of cervical cancer; a developer of Gardasil® and Cervarix®
MARK BLAXILL – author of The Age of Autism and Editor-at-Large of a web daily newspaper of the same name. Mr. Blaxill, has researched and written many articles for many publications, including a lengthy three-part series – A License to Kill?: How A Public-Private Partnership Made the Government Merck’s Gardasil Partner – on the intimate and conflicting relationships between the drug companies and the federal government regarding the use and peddling of Gardasil as well as a record of recorded deaths attributed to Gardasil.
Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota
National Vaccine Information Center – Minnesota Chapter
Citizens for Health
The Age of Autism Web Newspaper
A License to Kill? Part 1: How A Public-Private Partnership Made the Government Merck’s Gardasil Partner