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Hearing Gives Burton a Last Shot at Autism Issue

Indiana Republican plans to focus on environmental factors that could have effects on children’s neurological systems

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Burton said his grandson in one day received seven shots containing mercury before he was diagnosed with autism.

For more than a decade, Indiana Republican Dan Burton has been a leading House voice on autism and a proponent of the theory that mercury in vaccines contributes to the disorder. He held at least 20 hearings examining the potential link between the two during three terms as chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and one as head of the panel’s subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness, according to his office.

With about a month left before he retires, Burton will have one last chance to pursue the issue from his seat on the Oversight panel Thursday, when the panel holds a hearing on autism spectrum disorders. Burton said he plans to focus his questions on environmental factors — such as mercury or other contaminants in water — that have the potential to affect children’s neurological systems, as well as the vaccine issue.

“I’m very confident that the mercury in vaccinations is a contributing factor,” said Burton, whose teenage grandson has autism. “It may not be the only one — that’s why I talked about environmental issues as well — but certainly anything that you inject into your body that has mercury in it is a contaminant.”

But while Burton requested the hearing and expects to preside over part of it, the testimony lined up by the Oversight panel is expected to take a wider look at the autism spectrum rather than zeroing in on the controversy over vaccines. In an invitation to the National Institutes of Health, Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the hearing would look at “the federal response to the recent rise in ASD diagnoses,” the distribution of government resources, and research and treatment options.

“Rising ASD diagnosis rates present a challenge to federal agencies charged with coordinating response efforts,” Oversight spokesman Ali Ahmad said. “The committee will hear testimony from a broad array of voices, including parent advocates, self advocates, educational specialists and scientists.”

Burton’s Role

Dozens of studies — including a 2004 report by the Institute of Medicine — have concluded that there is no relationship between vaccines and autism, but some concerns still linger. And for Burton, the issue is personal.

Burton said his grandson received nine shots in one day, seven of which had mercury in them, shortly before he was diagnosed with autism. He believes a combination of things may have caused his grandson to become autistic, including the mercury in the vaccines and the fact that he got nine shots all together.

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