California bans mercury in vaccines

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill Tuesday that will ban mercury in vaccines for young children and pregnant women.

Missouri considered a similar bill earlier this year and it passed overwhelmingly in the House. However, the bill stalled in the Senate and was never brought to a vote.

California is the second state to sign such a law. Iowa approved an anti-mercury bill earlier this year.

The California law states that children under 3 years old shall not be given shots that contain more than trace amounts of thimerosal, including the flu shot. The law goes into effect on July 2, 2006.

The preservative thimerosal is 50 percent mercury by weight. From the 1930s until 1999, it was used extensively for multidose vials to prevent viruses or bacteria from growing in the vaccines. Most vaccines today, with the notable exception of the flu shot, do not contain thimerosal after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked pharmaceutical companies to remove the substance. The request was based on what the CDC called "unclear" evidence at the time that mercury may be the cause of an increase in autism cases in the 1990s.

In May of this year, the Institute of Medicine, based in Washington, D.C., used statistical research of five studies and declared that there is no link between the preservative and autism.

However, studies continued and the results are mixed. A study that was released several days ago said that the mercury-based preservative might actually be good for children. Just weeks earlier, a Columbia University scientist revealed a study that showed that genetically susceptible mice, when introduced to thimerosal, showed autism-like behaviors.

Fran Pavley, a Democrat, sponsored the California bill.

"I call this a common-sense precautionary measure," Pavley said. "I mean, why not? If there's an alternative, why risk exposing children to thimerosal when we know mercury is a neurotoxin?"

Mark Wax, of Rocky River, Ohio, is one of the leading plaintiffs in lawsuits against Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical giant. He thinks many states will follow the lead of California and Iowa.

"The public will increase their outcry, and it will be inevitable that communities who will need to pay to care for children like mine, will want the burden to fall on the culpable parties: the vaccine makers," he said. "There is nothing partisan about protecting our children. Those who are beholden to the pharmaceutical industry lobby and their vast money and power, have only served to delay and deprive kids like mine of justice. Because there will be billions in damages to be paid out, we knew we were going to be stonewalled. But, it won't work."