Ecologic studies of the spatial relationship between disease and sources of environmental contamination can help to ascertain the degree of risk to populations from contamination and to inform legislation to ameliorate the risk.
Population risks associated with persistent low-level mercury exposure have recently begun to be of concern and current reports implicate environmental mercury as a potential contributor in the etiology of various developmental and neurodegenerative diseases including autism and Alzheimer’s disease.
In this demonstration of preliminary findings, we demonstrate for Bexar County Texas and Santa Clara County California, the hypothesis that the spatial structure of the occurrence of autism has a positive co-variation with the spatial structure of the distribution of mercury in ambient air.
The relative risk of autism is greater in the geographic areas of higher levels of ambient mercury.
We find that the higher levels of ambient mercury are geographically associated with point sources of mercury emission, such as coal-fired power plants and cement plants with coal-fired kilns. Although this does not indicate a cause, these results should not be dismissed, but rather seen as a preliminary step for generating a hypothesis for further investigation.